Growing up, I never noticed Sheridan’s lack of an Independence Day parade. Sure, most of us get the day off, throw backyard barbecues and then watch an epic fireworks show. But after living in other states, I realized that most communities celebrate the holiday with a parade, often accompanied by a full week of patriotic events.
In our town, the Fourth of July is an appetizer before the feast. We save our biggest show of patriotism for Sheridan WYO Rodeo.
“Rodeo and the American dream, patriotism, they kind of all go hand in hand,” said Jeff Wells, a Sheridan WYO Rodeo board member, in a story for The Sheridan Press’ 2019 rodeo-themed magazine.
Indeed, America has been turned up across Sheridan all week. Red, white and blue are painted on the windows of Main Street shops and splashed across parade floats. Each rodeo performance is scheduled to begin with retired Navy SEALs parachuting from the sky with an enormous American flag before joining attendees in placing their right hands over their hearts and listening to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the Bighorns gleaming purple mountain majesty in the distance.
No, I never thought we needed a bigger celebration of Independence Day.
But these days, in the midst of our America-forward spectacle, I have been thinking about the meaning of patriotism. Not to go all Merriam-Webster on you, but the word is defined as “the love for or devotion to one’s country.” In recent years, it is not so simple. The perception of patriotism has become partisan. A Gallup poll published July 2 found that 76% of Republicans are extremely proud to be American, while only 22% of Democrats shared their sentiments.
This contrast in outward pride and patriotism seems to be a theme.
It was unpatriotic, argued the right, when Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem. On the contrary, countered the left: His protest was an expression of the American ideals of free speech and the aspiration of equality for all. In a New York Times opinion piece, Kaepernick’s teammate and fellow protester Eric Reid recalled, “We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.”
Many Republicans frown at those who focus on America’s past and current sins, say they want to move to Canada or shake their heads at Nike’s Betsy Ross sneaker. Many Democrats bridle at the all-hail-America, we-are-the-greatest-country-on-earth attitude, in which patriotism verges on nationalism regardless of unconstitutional actions in the country.
With such conflicting understandings of patriotism, I can see why each side would roll its eyes and even suggest that “the other” is ruining the country. At heart, though, I want to believe we all love our nation and aspire to abide by its ideals laid out 243 years ago:
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Our nation did not begin perfectly — we started with slavery. Our nation is not perfect today — we still have deep socioeconomic inequality. But our nation did begin with the revolutionary Declaration of Independence and does offer significant scientific achievements; diversity in race, religion and ethnicity; and rich culture and arts. What if we all could agree that we’re doing OK, but we still have work to do?
We may express ourselves differently, but, as trite as it is, this gives us the opportunity to learn from each other. Those on the right of the political spectrum could admit that one can both love their country and want it to be better. Those on the left could stand to enjoy more outward displays of patriotism, such as the national anthem.
In Friday’s edition of The Press, I was moved by a quote from Jana Davis, who performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” Wednesday.
“(The national anthem) creates that, just for a moment, patriotism and unity and a sense of pride,” she said. “…We may be different sexes and different colors and different beliefs and pray to different gods, but while you’re in America, for that moment, that sense of pride it evokes is amazing.”
When I attended Patriot Night of Sheridan WYO Rodeo, I really listened to the national anthem. Sitting in the crowd of cheering spectators clad in red, white and blue, I, too, felt proud to be an American.