You Don’t Have to Know Your History to Celebrate July Fourth -but it’s interesting

Flag Fireworks

Sparklers are typically the “gateway drug” to children’s fascination with fireworks. Diamond Sparklers in Ohio is the sole manufacturer of sparklers remaining in the United States. Every year we celebrate our nation’s birthday with both public and private fireworks celebrations that feature displays that primarily are manufactured in China.

When I was in elementary school I recall that often our lessen plans followed the calendar, which meant that we annually learned about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln around their birthdays, near Valentine’s day. The classroom bulletin boards would reflect this trifecta with profiles of the presidents stapled to white doilies onto the corrugated paper and surrounded by hearts. To an inattentive student like me this left me with the idea that George Washington (despite chopping down the cherry tree) maybe had a big heart and maybe Abe Lincoln (though honest) appearing pretty dour was a great lover?

My point being, we were not in school over July 4th and therefore Independence Day was never part of the school curriculum. Sure, I grew up knowing it was our nation’s birthday and fondly recall the Bicentennial in 1976. The Bicentennial coincided with a presidential election and the summer Olympiad. Everything from pancake mix to ketchup bottles were emblazoned with some sort of Red White and Blue label or commemorative design. Commercialism being as patriotic as a John Philip Sousa march!

The thing about being a kid is that time is a difficult concept. By the time I got out of elementary school, if you had asked me for a history of the United States, I may have told you that the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock, George Washington got off and after planting a plantation at Mount Vernon invited some Indians (yep, didn’t start using the term Native American until I was in high school) over for some corn on the cob and turkey with mashed potatoes after the harvest. Everyone loved him, so he became our first president. This is likely no reflection on my teachers, more of my own mind that tended to wander and as noted earlier a lack of concept of time.

If any others have this warped sense of history, let me share with you that the Mayflower set sail in September of 1620, it was the autumn of 1621 that is denoted as the origin of Thanksgiving to celebrate the first  harvest. George Washington’s great grandfather was not born until ten years later and it was 1656 before he crossed the ocean and settled in Colonial Virginia, he had a son Lawrence, who had a son Augustine who sired George. This makes George third generation living in what would be known as the United States of America, on my mother’s side I myself am just second generation, my grandfather having arrived from Ireland ninety years ago this year. My daughter is currently deciphering a small leather bound calendar he carried as a journal that year. He has noted dancing as a popular activity and when he wrote letters to a particular young lady (not my grandmother) a family he dined with regularly and then hopeful thoughts that another young lady would be at dancing (my eventual grandmother). Not much of his crossing is documented and one gap is explained with his good fortune at having found his diary along the roadside. Police raids and other notations remind us that teenagers around the world aren’t always doing what they are supposed to be up to. So my own maternal side of the family arrived over 300 years after the Mayflower and more than 250 years after Washington’s descendants. To a child, that seems like around perhaps dinosaurs and Moses era which were close, right?

So July Fourth, a time for social gatherings, boating, picnics, parades and mattress sales commemorates what? Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence in June of 1776. July 2nd of that year Congress voted to declare our independence. It was not signed until August 2nd of that year. It was delivered to Great Britain in November of 1776. You may have noticed that none of these events occurred on the fourth day of the seventh month. Well politicians then, much like now, did not always agree on everything. As the result, it took a couple of days for the Continental Congress to approve the final wording. July 4th commemorates the day that the changes and edits were finally approved.

You may be imagining that this led immediately to annual celebrations, backyard badminton and pool parties. It wasn’t until 1870 that July 4th was commemorated as a National Holiday. You also might be thinking that George Washington was president when all of this occurred. George Washington was not elected president until February 4th of 1789. He was twice unanimously elected by the electoral college to serve four years. If you wonder what his wife Martha wore to the inauguration that took place in New York, you might be surprised to know she did not attend but stayed home to manage Mount Vernon. George was reluctant to accept this newly created position because of how the young nation was divided among partisan lines. A lot has changed, yet much remains the same.

Whether you fly the flag, light fireworks or simply take the day to relax, it’s important to remember that since its inception this country has been a nation of people that come from different places, different belief systems and differing opinions. Yet we all can contribute and it’s a relatively safe place to share ones opinion, even when you don’t agree with your neighbor or perhaps the actions of your government. When hosting an immigrant family for Thanksgiving a number of years ago, the father commented how much he enjoyed our table conversation, as even in a private home gathering with family in his homeland, one could not speak freely for fear of government retribution. He makes his home here now with his wife and son and when his parents come to visit their government holds all of their assets as an assurance they will return. A former employee who went through the naturalization process after graduating from college and whose parents remain as college professors in his native land told me “Despite other countries criticism of the United States, most parents around the world wish that their children could live here.”.

I heard a young man the other day comment “I’m an American but I’m not proud of it.” and I thought about all of the people who had made sacrifices, simply so he could say that. I thought about what might result if he were to publicly utter such a thought in another country. While no place on earth will ever be perfect, the vision of those who took a risk and came and the others who shouldered the work of trying to lay out a plan for how to incorporate and tolerate the desires of such a wide array of opinions is something worth celebrating.

So raise a Coke or grab a beer and celebrate our nations birthday! Make a new tradition with family and friends. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the United States remains in the growing pains of a young country. A tradition for many is a pound cake and Cool Whip  cake decorated with blueberries and strawberries to look like an American Flag. To the young, that’s ALWAYS been a part of July 4th. You can wait until July 5th to let them know that Cool Whip was not invented until 1966. Why spoil a good party?

Cousins July 4th


Insulting Voters for Political Gain and Other 2016 Strategies


While it has been nearly two weeks since our caucuses in Minnesota, I find myself still fascinated by the often conflicted interpretation of events surrounding the rallies preceding primaries in other states. For those not from here, a brief tutorial on Minnesota politics; we are the state that had a former pro wrestler elected as an Independent to serve as governor, we are remembered as the only blue state on the map during the 1984 Presidential race and earlier this month we allocated the majority of delegates to Bernie Sanders and Marco Rubio for their respective parties. As a fiscally conservative and socially more liberal voter, I find I have to rely upon other states every four years to get my favored candidate their chair in the Oval Office. Currently this method has worked half of the time, November 2016 will be a tie breaker.

I am not trying to convince anyone to get behind a specific individual, my chance to support a candidate in making it to the ballot has passed. I am however asking people to take a step back and evaluate the sources of some of the most illogical reasoning and intelligence insulting media I have ever seen. I have shared with a new generation of voters, that to me this is the most divided I have seen this country since 1968. Issues which I thought had become non-issues, negativity and hatred I had believed were quelled are percolating. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction and that is being used by all sides in an attempt to persuade voters. When Secret Service agents jumped a protestor attempting to get to the candidate at a Trump event in Ohio over the weekend the individual identified himself as a Bernie supporter. When Trump publicly stated that Bernie supporters were part of the problem, Bernie denied it. All one needed to do was look at the Chicago Tribune which posted protestors at Trump’s event in Illinois on Friday, Bernie signs and buttons shown prominently. I find it hard to believe that there were no photographs of supporters for the other Republican candidates (who vocally oppose Trump) who came out or Hillary campaigners who attended. Did the Chicago Tribune opt to only show Bernie supporters or is that truly all who came to protest? Meanwhile MoveoOn.Org wishes to take credit for the Chicago rally being canceled.

One of the angles I find most interesting is that people want to call Trump a bully for his commentary but these same sources wish to goad him by saying he is too scared to stand up to ISIS if he can’t stand up to protestors in Chicago. Is that not considered bullying as well? They want to make him responsible for the actions of an attendee at one of his events (a 78 year old man punching a disruptive protestor who is being removed) but wish to take no claim for the bleeding head of a police officer during their “peaceful” protest. In all honesty, Trump’s insight and desire to not have a full-blown riot represent perhaps the most presidential thing that I have seen him do thus far. I personally don’t think Trump is any more or less responsible for his audience members behavior than Bernie is for his supporter trying to jump Donald. I however am a believer in personal accountability, an old-fashioned notion to many.

Those who went to protest and antagonize might have been disappointed that the event didn’t erupt into something uglier. Disappointingly, candidates from both parties used the situation to try to bolster their own standings. As though somehow a person’s opposition being uncivil should garner support for that opposition. It seems apparent that the protestors failed to give much thought regarding that in addition to  Trump supporters, there were  many others there simply to listen to him prior to making their decision. Just like the kid in the viral video last week, it’s disappointing when you plan to go somewhere and end up somewhere else. While some might not like it, a Trump rally is no broccoli farm but the protestors turned it into a circus! Rally attendees didn’t get to see and listen to Trump and protestors didn’t get to be part of an epic riot. Link to video: http://mashable.com/2016/03/08/broccoli-farm-circus-video/#LH9Z_UTDesqJ

My husband (who did not attend a caucus and has not declared support for any candidate) found himself playing devil’s advocate over the weekend via Facebook with a high school classmate. When she ran out of factual claims to back her opinion she retaliated with “I know of no intelligent people who support Trump.” I asked my husband if she still lived in Le Sueur (the town they attended high school in) which she does. Having been to Le Sueur many times during my marriage I realize that if you were not to leave town (population 4000) you would likely miss out on much of the diversity the world has to offer. Despite whatever your political views regarding him might be, I would be hard pressed to claim that Dr. Ben Carson who endorsed Trump last week is not intelligent. Such is the rhetoric this election cycle.

Over the past few years I have noticed methods of trying to garner political support that I don’t recall while growing up. I think that this approach is actually a contributing factor to the divisiveness which seems more apparent in our current race. It began with the vilifying of “The one percent”. Those who were raised trying to win with a roll of the dice in Monopoly were being told that people who achieved what was once referred to as the “American Dream” are somehow inherently evil. Mathematically you can at least understand why a party or candidate might choose this particular tactic, an “us” against “them” with the risk of only alienating 1% of the population and perhaps gaining new ground with the other 99%. Take a look at the German census in 1933 and you will see that is the approximate percentage of people identifying as Jewish that year. So despite my personally not being accustomed to this sort of political practice, it’s not a new one. Blame a small minority.

The most recent version of this which I find even more bizarre is the polls showing that Donald Trump is leading among the “uneducated”. This is likely the talking point my husband’s classmate was attempting to utilize. One news source reporting the poll results with the dire statement “Donald Trump supporters did not have a very flattering picture painted of them by a new poll”. The qualification for “educated” was actually college and in a numbers game using that criteria, 68% of Americans are “uneducated”, that’s enough to win any election. What people were attempting to elude to is that the supporters lacked intelligence. Those reporting either lacked the education or intelligence to recognize those aren’t the same thing. At the same time we have candidates running on the promise of providing free public education, this holds less value to the already educated and it would seem obvious that insulting those who have not chosen or been given the opportunity for higher education is a bad campaign strategy.

While I have a bachelor’s degree I know many highly intelligent people who do not. Having worked among college students for over twenty-five years I also know many people who are not the most intelligent who do have degrees. I am the grandchild of an Irish immigrant whose formal education ended at the eighth grade, he arrived in the United States at nineteen. By the time he retired he was the Vice President of Foreign Marketing for Pillsbury. My recently deceased father in law also dropped out of school to assist his father in running the family farm. Only after a brother who remained in school got TB (forcing him to remain home) did he ask his father if he could return to school. He graduated from high school, went to college, had a career in the Air Force and returned to school for another degree upon retirement. While his opportunity for an education made him more educated, he was no more intelligent than he would have been if he had stayed on the farm. Walt Disney did alright despite leaving school at 16, Wolfgang Puck left school in Austria at 14, Milton Hershey had a fourth grade education and Henry Ford didn’t go to college. John D. Rockefeller Sr. dropped out of high school  and Andrew Carnegie’s formal education ended in elementary school but access to reading materials to self-educate himself led to him contributing to the construction of 2509 libraries throughout the world. Some of our best known fast food and franchise developers either did not finish high school or attend college; Colonel Sanders (KFC), Ray Kroc (McDonalds), Dave Thomas (Wendy’s), Debbi Fields (Mrs. Fields Cookies) and many others. I write this across the room from a framed Ansel Adams poster and the beauty of the photograph is not sullied by him being a high school dropout. When I stay at a Holiday Inn, I am not negatively impacted by the founders lack of a high school diploma. Next time you see a Frank Lloyd Wright designed building perhaps you will recall that it was designed by someone who never attended high school. Locally, the founder of Best Buy did not go to college. For a truly inspiring read I encourage you to look into Rob Kalin the founder of Etsy and his educational path after flunking out of high school, too much good stuff to summarize here. Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson also fall into the “uneducated” classification; intelligent enough to be president, just not educated enough to choose one, some imply.

I’m not suggesting that all of these “uneducated” people I’ve profiled are Trump supporters, typically the Democrats garner more of the deceased votes (that’s sarcasm, for those who don’t know me well). I am simply pointing out that the implication that education somehow makes a person superior or that lack of education should be something to be ashamed of is just as demeaning as being dismissive of an individual based upon their faith, where they live, their skin color or any other identifying characteristic of birth or personal choice.

So for those of you who are still in a position to make a decision, I encourage you to do what you believe is right for your country and not simply your current situation. Sometimes it is tempting to find a quick-fix appealing and not think about the long range impact. When the media is telling you loudly who is being a bully, step back and question if their very method of reporting isn’t bullying itself. If you are being instructed to be against a percentage of the population, take time to evaluate if that is a construct you are comfortable with. If you are being told that you are better than some other group of voters based on some arbitrary criteria, it’s a good idea to to take stock of your values and also the values of the candidate or media source who is trying to win over voters by telling them they are superior. Really? When it comes down to it we each get one vote in November. Why is that?

“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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” -Declaration of Independence