O’DONNELL: Fourth of July: Then and now

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Should Congress make English the official language of the U.S.?

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Like millions of Americans, my family and I celebrate Independence Day at the beach. There’s something about an overcrowded beach house that makes the world seem alright. This year, on our first night at the rental house, there was the most spectacular electrical storm. The lightning was pulsing like the finale of fireworks without an end. I laid in bed recalling the times I watched storms like this when I was a kid. So, I snuck down the dark hall, past the room where the little ones were stashed, to go wake up my older niece and nephew (who, of course, were not asleep but rather wide awake playing video games.)

“Anyone want to walk down to the beach to watch the storm?” After a quick chorus of “cool!” we were out the back door and heading towards the rickety stairs that lead to the sand.

We were witnessing the beginning of a hurricane that was still hundreds of miles away. Thirty minutes of wild pulsating lightning, yet no rain.

The three of us sat there, at midnight, in our pajamas, on the beach, mesmerized by what was unfolding. Suddenly, I was struck by an unfamiliar mix of nostalgia and fear. I wasn’t afraid of the storm, or anything like that. It was something intangible. As we sat there telling stories, I realized where that eerie feeling was coming from.

By no means did I have an easy childhood, yet at the same time, it seemed everything was cloaked in a blanket of safety. We had a cowboy for a president, my grandpop was an Army MP. We rode our bikes until the streetlights came on and walked in the woods unsupervised. I’d hear grown-ups talk about the cold war, but if a sense of uncertainly or fear crept in, I was assured, “This is America! There’s nothing to worry about. We’ve got the best military in the world. ” And was quickly reminded, “Be thankful for that.”

I was taught that as long as I worked hard and saved, I could do anything.

I sat there on the beach that night watching my niece and nephew, wondering what kind of America they will live in. When they get scared about terror attacks, or their own futures, can I offer them the same reassurance I had been offered when America was strong, sovereign and solvent? Can I honestly say to them, “Don’t worry. You live in America, you’re safe.”?

Perhaps it was the dark open sky that seemed to emphasize our vulnerability as a nation. Perhaps it was that I had experienced this before, except now I was the grown up. I was the one who had to promise everything would be okay. And I can’t sincerely make that promise.

In a recent Charlie Rose interview with Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, Mr. Churkin was boasting that Russia is the new global superpower. “Russia is most definitely on the rise!” he said over and over again. Mr. Rose countered that if tensions rose among our two nations, America and Russia, we would tighten sanctions and use our leverage over then.

Mr. Churkin had this sinister smirk on his face, as if he was holding in laughter about to say, “Silly little boy.” With an almost ominous confidence, he reminded Mr. Rose that America is a sitting duck.

“Instead of making threats to Russia, maybe United States should do something about its national debt. It’s like a financial bubble, you could poke a little hole in that financial bubble…” emphasizing that our economy could burst by the slightest prick. “We don’t have your national debt,” he rubbed in. “Our economy is very strong.”

Watching that interview I had the same feeling I had on the beach that night.

Instead of a cowboy for a president, we have a boy who plays cowboy as a president. Instead of a leader who works with Congress, we have a child who taunts Congress with statements like “Sue me!” (I’m surprised the president didn’t take it all the way and call Boehner a stupid head.)

My dad taught me to see always the glass half full, even when it’s empty. So although our nation is teetering on the verge of collapse, that part of me believes it’s not too late to reverse course. But when I’m honest with myself, the kind of self-honesty stirred up by a stormy night on the beach, I have to admit there’s a small underlying doubt in my boldness. For the first time in my life, I can’t say with certainty, “This is America, so everything will be alright.”

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