Happy Independence Day

Today is the 4th of July (Fourth of July), a national holiday in the United States that commemorates America’s independence from Great Britain.  The Fourth of July is associated with traditional American food fare like hot dogs, hamburgers, and potato salad, outdoor grilling, baseball, picnics, fireworks, and parades.  The date coincides with the Continental Congress’ signing of the Declaration of Independence.  We associate this day with the only two future presidents to sign the document, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both of whom died on July 4th, 1826.  I guess you could say that was their independence day too!

John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail and declared his hopes for the national holiday:

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.  It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.  It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Well, we may not be quite as religious about the holiday.  We’re more apt to shoot off fireworks and eat too much. Nevertheless, watch this highlight from the annual Capitol Fourth celebration in Washington, DC and tell me you don’t feel a little fired up.  I’ve been to several of these celebrations in Washington, since I lived in the nation’s capital for nine years.  This patriotic music can get my blood circulating and my skin full of goosebumps. Performed by country singer, Reba McIntire.

I make no apologies for loving my country.  It’s that love for country that makes me criticize it so often.  I believe we can always do better.  I am reminded of the words of one of my mentors, J. William Fulbright, who said, “In a democracy, dissent is an act of faith.”  He wrote one of the most important critiques of the Vietnam War in his book, The Arrogance of Power, on which my book, The Arrogance of American Power, is based.

If America has a service to perform in the world, and I believe it has, it is in large part the service of its own example. In our excessive involvement in the affairs of other countries, we are not only living off our assets and denying our own people the proper enjoyment of their resources; we are also denying the world the example of a free society enjoying its freedom to the fullest. This is regrettable indeed for a nation that aspires to teach democracy to other nations, because, as Burke said, “Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.”

Andy Griffith: America’s Favorite

Where do I start with the life of Andy Griffith?  He defined American culture for decades.  He was the Hollywood star that everyone liked, the man we hoped to meet someday on a trip North Carolina, where he made his home.  He was “our” Andy, a quintessential American TV and film star who never let his fame go to his head.  And boy did he define the character of America with “The Andy Griffith Show” (1960-1968).  The show featured Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor and included a cast of characters that we all could identify with as part of our own family or home towns.  We all know someone like the bumbling, can’t shoot straight Barney Fife.  We all have an Aunt Bee in our life, or wish we did.  Who doesn’t know a sweet little boy like Opie, played by the now famous Hollywood director, Ron Howard.  The show, shot in Hollywood, was set in the fictional Mayberry, North Carolina, small-town USA, modeled on Andy Griffith’s home town of Mount Airy, North Carolina.

Why did a show that featured two police officers in a town with practically no crime win America’s hearts?  Griffith said on CNN in 2003: “The basic theme of our show was love.  All the characters loved each other. And all the actors loved each other, too.”  You can see this love in the many YouTube episodes, including one of my favorites, Aunt Bee’s kerosene pickles.

In looking back at the shows, critics today say that the cast was too white (true), overly sentimental, and not reflective of the times.  Television has always functioned as an escape hatch for the American psyche, just as it also at times serves as a mirror to reflect our lesser selves onto us (Roots, All in the Family.)

Griffith represented an America we thought might never change.  He was the American we all wanted to be: good-humored, friendly, optimistic, decisive, a problem-solver with a can-do spirit.  Mayberry, North Carolina took us away from all the changes in the 1960s, the battles over race, the war in Vietnam, the rise of Rock and Roll and protest songs.  Sometimes we wanted to forget about the way things really were and take a trip to a small town where problems got solved in less than 30 minutes.  The New York Timesobituary on Andy Griffith is a great tribute.  Read some of the comments posted by the readers.  You’ll see why we are going to miss him.  For us Baby Boomer types, we all know Andy Griffith’s entire career and can whistle “The Andy Griffith Show” theme song.

Griffith would star in another show, “Matlock,” where once again he scored a big hit in the 1980s and 1990s, this time as a clever Atlanta-based lawyer who always got the bad guy and always seemed to wear the same suit.  Andy Griffith as Matlock reminds me of my mom and dad sitting in their side-by-side easy chairs in our family den in Birmingham, Alabama.  They never missed an episode and it warms my heart to think of the years my dad had in retirement watching not only “Matlock” but also “The Andy Griffith Show” in reruns on TV Land, the cable network that caters to the nostalgic who likes quality.

Andy Griffith died one day before our most patriotic holiday, Fourth of July.  How fitting, for he was America’s favorite son, father, sheriff, and lawyer.  He died in the early morning and was buried on his beloved Roanoke Island before noon.

If you want to see Andy Griffith’s acting range, then watch the 1957 film Elia Kazan directed, “A Face in the Crowd,” where Griffith plays an everyman turned demagogue named Lonesome Rhodes.  I love to show clips in class whenever I lecture on American propaganda and persuasion.  This film was a warning to America that we are easily duped, not only by the charismatic common man like Rhodes, but also by advertising and celebrity.  I’m afraid that we’re ever more like the Andy in “A Face in the Crowd” than we are like the Andy in “The Andy Griffith Show.”

The Busy Trap: Here and Everywhere

Slow down, you move too fast.

I hope you aren’t too busy to read this latest post.  I recall sometime this year that my landlady in California said that I’m the busiest person she knows.  Wow, I thought, that must mean I’m doing something important.  On second thought, it could have meant that I’m like many Americans, including herself, who is preoccupied with, well occupations.  We’re too busy to care, too busy to bother, too busy to matter, too busy to know that we’re too busy.  Get the picture?

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.

Tim Kreider, The Busy Trap, New York Times

Do you feel like you are too busy?  Knowing your life as a full-time student, I would imagine that you must feel too busy.  How do you find time for yourself?  In an educational setting where the brain is on overdrive, we must take time to stop and enjoy the hollyhocks or just listen to the sage advice of Simon and Garfunkel or Mac Davis.  Now go grab that cup of matcha latte and relax.