Today is the Fourth of July, Independence Day, the birthday of the United States of America.
Last night, I was watching Little House on the Prairie, and the TV guide said that the episode would be “Four Eyes,” the one in which Mary gets glasses.
Instead, the episode that came on was “Centennial,” which is about a Russian immigrant to America who objects to the cancellation of Walnut Grove’s centennial celebration.
In the episode, the property taxes in Walnut Grove go up to pay for a new road, and many of the residents become disillusioned with America. Charles says, “You know, I work from sunup to sundown and hope to save a little for a rainy day, only for the government to snatch it away!” Mr. and Mrs. Oleson pass on the higher taxes to their consumers, resulting in higher prices. Hanson’s mill is struggling, since people can’t afford to pay him, with their taxes being so high. And some predict ominously that the government will one day tax income, though others retort that this will never happen!
Most residents of Walnut Grove want to cancel the Centennial picnic that would celebrate America’s 100 years as a country. But one resident who disagrees is a Russian immigrant. Although he was swindled when he bought land that had a lot of unpaid property taxes on it, resulting in the loss of his home, he still likes the United States of America. Before he came to the U.S., he lived in Czarist Russia, whose government took taxes–not for roads or for schools–but for the Czar’s pocket. People were jailed or killed for speaking against the government. And the Czarist government took this man’s property because it thought he was withholding his taxes.
In America, by contrast, there are what he calls the “great freedoms”–freedom of speech, press, religion, trial by jury, etc. While Russia only has schools for the elite, America has them for everyone, allowing his son to learn English and teach it to his family. And, even though he lost his property, he likes the fact that he can start over again with free homestead land. Tears come to my eyes whenever I see the Russian giving his little speech at the local church praising America, “the best country in the whole wide world.”
I often wonder if I agree with American exceptionalism. The cradle-to-grave socialism of European countries may have its disadvantages, but many find security in it. In America, by contrast, there is insecurity for so many, especially in the area of health care. There’s stress among Americans to survive!
At the same time, I have to admire the signers of the Declaration of Independence, who challenged the tyranny of a despot to create a country based on law rather than an arbitrary man, to the risk of many of their lives. Our commitment to freedom has inspired freedom throughout the world, and that is something to celebrate.