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Hot dogs and hand-wringing in equal parts this Fourth of July: Westwood

Both Canadians and Americans are fumbling for a new a way to mark our histories, writes Rosemary Westwood.

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The brittle heat of the Arizona desert radiated off red striped cliffs in Sedona on July 4, during what forecasters promised would be the end of a scorching heat wave (the monsoon rains are coming).

Sedona, a stretch of sand-coloured buildings cut into the rocks, shaded by lush, squat pines, lies in the heart of Verde Valley, in a state stamped with names predating English colonization: Pima, Maricopa, Yavapai, Navajo.

It’s one of the quiet corners of America on Independence Day. But even in this sleepy, sauna city there’s no escaping the question of what, exactly, this most American of holidays is supposed to mean, and to whom. Especially this year.

The national papers were full of how to put the current American existential-crisis-cum-president into historical context, quoting Frederick Douglass on what July Fourth means for African Americans, condemning Donald Trump’s effort to sweep up American voting registries in pursuit of his voter-fraud conspiracy theory, asking readers to focus on their “shared set of beliefs.” One New York Times editorial painted Trump un-American (the worst slur in U.S. politics), as a man who “hijacked” the presidency.

To his supporters, getting behind the president is a duty. To his critics, resisting him is. Fewer suggest something about America itself is the problem. There is — in both the defence and critique of Trump — a strident effort to protect something called “America.” Something akin to nationalist fragility. But the history of nationalism runs in tandem with the history of critique, and much of what this country might now wallow in self-congratulation over was hard-fought by critics, including the end of slavery and women’s emancipation.

“The ghost of Frederick Douglass came down & said enjoying your ribs today isn’t mutually exclusive from critiquing America,” the writer Clint Smith noted on Twitter. “You can do both.”

But do you want to? Do you want to think, while on vacation grilling a hot dog, of the origins of the word Nevada, or the Trail of Tears?

Canada’s 150th birthday was soaked in these questions of history, colonialism and self-righteousness, dampened appropriately by them, by Indigenous occupation on Parliament Hill and innumerable think pieces on how to be a conscientious Canadian, and not a blind patriot.

But no one’s ever proved that national pride is a net good. And plenty have proved that unthinking patriotism isn’t. If the unexamined life isn’t worth living, neither is the unexamined country worth living in.

Thus, both Canadians and Americans are in the midst of fumbling about for a new kind of way to mark our histories. A less fragile national ego. A less deluded image of ourselves.

Rosemary Westwood has relocated from Canada to the U.S. She chronicles her observations in a weekly column with Metro.

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