In between all of today's cookouts, parades, fireworks and other festivities, Americans should take a little time to reflect on what unites all of us. Being patriotic on this 236th Independence Day should mean rededicating ourselves to that unity.
Especially in a presidential election year, it's only too easy to blame politicians and the media for dividing our country.
It would also be a cop-out.
If we're honest, we can see the hardening of political views in our circles of colleagues, friends and relatives, and in ourselves. Too often, we come across those with conflicting views, put them into a category bleeding-heart liberal, right-wing zealot and write them off. We have to acknowledge that the politicians are responding to our demands that many of the politically active among us want our leaders to be even more strident.
That's evident from a major public opinion study released exactly a month ago. The Pew Research Center, which has closely tracked American values, found that we're more polarized along partisan lines than at any point in the last 25 years.
The gap between Republicans and Democrats is now wider than the divides by race, class, gender or age.
The differences have deepened on issues where there were already divisions like government helping the needy and have extended into subjects where there used to be some bipartisan agreement like protecting the environment.
Nearly all of the increased polarization, the Pew Center says, happened during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
That must be a bitter pill for Obama, who is keenly aware of his place in history and who emerged on the national stage at the 2004 Democratic National Convention with his stirring appeal that America was not divided into blue states and red states, but was the United States of America.
Could he plausibly deliver such a speech today? If he did, would it be celebrated nearly as much?
Without an open exchange of views, without a willingness for some compromise, our democracy flails along. Even if one party is able to squeeze major legislation, such as health care reform, through Congress, the other will seek to overturn or undermine it at every turn. The war over the Affordable Care Act is nowhere near over, even after last week's historic Supreme Court ruling upholding it.
It's part of the hard work of being a citizen not to always toe the party line, to challenge our own views and, sometimes, to admit we're wrong. We ought to focus more on what binds us together our beliefs in individual freedom, fair play, upward mobility, strength through diversity.
One great quality about our military is that it bonds Americans from very different backgrounds. In outposts in Afghanistan, soldiers are fighting are willing to give their lives for their country, but also for their comrades, whatever they look like or believe politically.
It is an example to emulate: Whatever our differences, we're all in this grand American experiment together. To move toward that more perfect union, we have to renew that commitment to each other and within ourselves.