As far as I know, the pool that lies between the Washington and Lincoln memorials in the nation’s capital is meant to provide for a physical reflection of those great symbols, not for national self-reflection. But the latter would be fitting, too, as we’re a nation given to periodic assessments of how well we’re living up to the ideals those great men’s eras represent.

The six weeks leading up to Independence Day have been another time of self-reflection. But this time, perhaps more than previous occasions, has been accompanied by a more sinister element.

It is one thing, and wholly appropriate, to ask if America is reaching her ideals. Is justice truly blind? Are all men (and women) treated as if they were created equal? Are these ideals upheld more fully today than in the past? Is progress coming fast enough?

These and other questions have arisen loudly since the killing of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, as well as other tragic deaths. The first two questions about justice and equality, questions of an absolute nature, will always find imperfect humans lacking. But there’s a sense that the latter two about ideals and progress, questions of degree and speed, could and should offer better answers these days.

So we keep striving to make our union more perfect.

It appears increasingly fashionable, however, to dispute that whether we’ve achieved perfection is even the right question. The very founding of the nation, by some people who held views and took actions now considered abhorrent, renders it irredeemable to some observers.

These are the hooligans toppling statues. These are the anarchists seizing city blocks, and declaring them not only free of police: “You are now leaving the USA,” read one makeshift sign at the border of Seattle’s “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.”

Here, our neighbors up in Dade County might knowingly chuckle about the establishment of “independent states” and such. Okay. But there is something more going on.

In early June, Gallup asked for the 20th year running just how proud Americans are. The number who are “extremely proud” (42%) or “very proud” (21%) hit new lows. Just three years ago, half of Americans were extremely proud; in the post-9/11 unity, seven in 10 were.

Some of this reflects our polarized politics. Extreme American pride among Democrats has been lower than that of Republicans for all 20 years of this particular survey, but it bottomed out last year at 22% and “rebounded” to 24% this year. This, after it managed 56% as recently as 2013.

Those whose American pride is bruised; who would topple statues of George Washington because, for all he did in service of his country, he also owned slaves; who deface memorials to 19th-century abolitionists, whether out of ignorance or some form of pique – may all of them consider this:

If this nation has let you down, you must have held some kind of expectations for it. Where did those expectations come from?

I would submit they came from the same men whose shortcomings you now judge weightier than their contributions. Men who knew their reach toward liberty for all exceeded their grasp.

If those Founders were so unworthy of acclaim, how did they design a republic that owes you more than it has given?

Who else but the Founders drafted the “promissory note” Martin Luther King Jr. went to the Lincoln Memorial to cash? Why else would there be a notion of funds available for withdrawal from King’s “bank of justice” or “great vaults of opportunity”?

One need not believe the check has always cleared — clearly, it hasn’t — to believe there was value in the promise, even if it’s yet unfulfilled. To believe the great vaults here still hold more opportunity than anywhere else, even if it remains beyond the reach of some.

To believe America is not worthy of scorn because of our failures, but worthy of pride because it holds out something loftier still.

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