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Backyard beers and barbecues foster not only merriment but also our “mystic chords of memory.”

There is much to celebrate on the fourth of July as we commemorate our independence from Great Britain almost 250 years ago. And today these celebrations seem more important than in years past.

That word “commemorate” has the important prefix “co-”, because today we not only remember our independence, but we remember together our forefathers’ act of declaring independence—and the willingness of colonists to fight, bleed, and die for that independence.

America desperately needs to remember together, to be drawn together into a shared memory and shared vision.

While local community and tradition is paramount, we need nevertheless to be bound together as one people, distinctively American, proud of our heritage and of our place. That means, of course, that in addition to forms of local community, we need at least some form of national community. And community is borne out of practices—habits or rituals performed together for some unifying purpose.

The backyard beers and barbecues festooned with frivolity and fireworks is no small thing. These practices—distinctly American—are not only delightful. They are also essential.

The practices of Independence Day unite Americans around shared values and a shared history. They are a small way of fostering the “mystic chords of memory” that Lincoln lauds in his first inaugural.

Those chords are strained and stretched today. America has never been free from domestic turmoil, but our divisions are reaching a feverous pitch today, and appear to be nearly at a breaking point. One always thinks that our nation cannot just come undone, but all the great governments and republics of human history have collapsed. Our Fourth of July celebrations should remind us that, from sea to shining sea, we share a heritage and a place, and that heritage, imperfect but good, should not be taken for granted.

Happy Independence Day.

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