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Sunday, July 2, 2017

Exceptional Independence

It’s Sunday morning as I write this. Tuesday is the Fourth of July, our Independence Day. I was thinking about it this morning. Thinking about how much I love that day. I think, other than Christmas, it’s my favorite holiday. I love this country. I love it so much it brings me to tears sometimes. Tears of pride and of love mostly. Tears of pain and sadness once in a while. Only the things you love can bring out your emotions. And I love this country.
I love our history, and I love our uniqueness. I love that we are exceptional. For those unaware of what “American Exceptionalism” means (Including our prior president, Mr. Obama) I’ll explain. It doesn’t mean we think we are “exceptional” the way I think my daughter is exceptional. All citizens think that of their countries. At least most do. Citizens of despots probably don’t, although most despots cut their citizens off from the world at large so they wouldn’t know how anyone else lives anyway. 
American Exceptionalism doesn’t mean we think we’re better than any other country. It means we know we are unique. We do it differently. We have since July 4, 1776. We chose a different form of government. We have a different attitude. We value things that other nations don’t, and we disavow ourselves of systems and traditions that other nations adhere to. 
We’re The Exception. That’s how we like it. We treasure hard work and grit, and determination. We feel shame if we put even the slightest dent in that fierce independent streak we inherited from the signers of that document in Philadelphia.
We want to do it our way, because we’re confident that our way is best. Every craftsman, every doctor, every actor, every musician, every schoolteacher…none of us want to inherit some government job that removes the possibility of failure, and the risk of achievement. We want to rise or fall based solely on the strength of our work ethic, the volume of our blood, sweat, and tears, and the quality of our work. 
I work for a college in the IT department. As a side business, I also build decks. I’ve had decks in magazines. I could easily just slap together another square deck that looks like a boat dock -well-built though it may be- but I choose to create beautiful structures that stand out from all the rest. I build every deck as if it were going in my own yard. I sign my name to my work. I choose to be the exception. That's America.
We’ve been a nation for 240 years now. In that time, we’ve fought two world wars, eliminated slavery, (while literally tearing ourselves apart and then healing our own soul) lost presidents to assassination, death in office, and resignation. We elected a black man with a Muslim name, only 7 years after the biggest attack on our soil…by Muslims. (Proving that we are far too forgiving, and far too kind hearted. But we DO learn from our mistakes)
We tend to “Americanize” things. We have to. We’re the exception. Things that are just fine in Europe, won’t stand up to scrutiny here without some tweaking. To quote my favorite comedian, the late, great, Richard Jeni: “The French might have studied exactly how many flaky layers it takes to make the perfect croissant, but only the Americans could improve it by stuffing two pieces of ham and some processed cheese in it, and serving it through a drive-thru window in two minutes!”
He’s right. 
We drive to work and eat in our car. We work late. We don’t take afternoon siestas and late morning brunches. We grind and hustle. For the money? Perhaps. For the recognition? Maybe. The real reason is because it’s who we are. It’s pride. It’s our soul. When the photographer for the “Garden Lifestyles” magazine first approached me twenty years ago to photograph one of my decks, it wasn’t because I had sent him some pictures or promoted myself in any way. It was because I was building a deck for his next-door neighbor and he saw my work and was blown away. I didn’t even know who he was or what he did. I did the job as I always do it, and someone noticed. 
That’s America!  Contrary to popular belief…we AREN’T the Kardashians. We’re the Waltons. We’re The Sopranos, without the crime. 
We’re Exceptional.
Tuesday marks our 240th year. Our birthday. These last eight years I had my doubts that there would be another. I wrote as much on several occasions. Our previous president had us on the brink of ruin for almost his entire eight-year reign of terror. He was our personal King George. He mocked us and denied our representation. If we disagreed with him he held us out as racist. As if we elected this black man, just to have someone to hate. He destroyed the environment for business growth, tried to disable our dreams and crush our drive and ambition. He mocked those of us who started businesses and built lives on our own. He fiddled as Rome burned and then peed on the smoldering ashes. I believe, he intended to break us forever. He hates this exceptionalism we possess and he wanted to reduce us to “just-another-nation” status. 
But we ended that dream of his. Because we’re still exceptional. 
We didn’t lay down and drink the poison he offered. The poison of laziness, and government dependency, and mediocrity. We refused to believe we were no longer exceptional. No longer special. No longer God-blessed and God-centered. He wanted us to be less. The President of the United States, wanted his own nation to be something less. Just writing those words makes me furious. My president, whom I certainly didn’t vote for but who’s office I still respected, wanted my country to fail.
I was thinking about this as I thought about my grandparents. They were all immigrants except for my maternal grandmother, and even she was born here to immigrant parents. I don’t find my roots in aristocracy. I find them in Exceptionalism. I find them in Americanism.
My grandfather Joe, (Giuseppe) faked the age on his birth certificate and stowed away on a freighter from the port of Gaetti, near his hometown of Montecassino, Italy. He came here at 15. All alone. By the time he was done, he’d married, raised 13 kids, built his own house and his own business, and made his own way. He was an exception.
My father, Giuseppe’s son, just one generation off the boat, earned his Ed.D. A fifteen-year-old immigrant stowaway, has a son who gets a doctorate. Because we’re exceptional.
My grandmother grew up in South Philly, next door to a handsome young man with a beautiful voice, the son of immigrants. His name was Alfred Cocozza, but the world knew him as Mario Lanza. He was just a kid from South Philly, but he had dreams and talent and he worked, and he became the exception.
Our men have died defending this nation. Their families never turned against us, even as they grieved so great a sacrifice for an increasingly unappreciative community. Others have carried wounds from battle and silently went on with life, shrugging their shoulders at the respect and awe we hold them in. Because they are exceptional.
We invented cures for diseases, and put men on the moon. Because we simply couldn’t sit back and wait for some other nation…some older, more established country, to get there first.
Because we’re the exception.
We don’t want to be part of some globalist view. We don’t believe in “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” on a worldwide scale. We’re Us. You’re them. Let’s be best friends, but not adopted family. We like you, but we don’t want to be you.
We’re the exception.
We admire those who speak multiple languages. But we speak English.
We love travel and exotic locations. But our favorite place is our backyard, a grill, some friends from the block we live on, and that glorious flag waving in the breeze.
We’re the exception.
That’s who we are.
This Independence Day, for the first time since 2009, we have a President who is, himself, the exception. He's a patriot. Rough, vocal, passionate, often coloring outside the lines. He stood out from a crowd of political robots to put down the threat of Hillary Clinton and give us the chance to save ourselves. We voted for him because he wasn’t like the rest.
He was exceptional.
We are exceptional.
I don’t know how they celebrate Bastille Day, or Cambodia day or whatever the rest of the nations on earth do on their anniversary.
But Americans never forget what we are, who we defeated and why.
We’re exceptional.
God Bless America.