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On Monday the United States turns 240 years old. Almost everyone will enjoy a day off, fireworks, and cookouts. But, as this Youtube video shows, very few people today can connect the significance of July 4th to the spirit of what it means to be American.

I almost dislike the Fourth anymore. All the firework-watching, barbecue-eating, vacationers will celebrate their “freedom” under an unfathomable dome of laws, rules, regulations, and new norms that make life anything but free. Much of the celebration will be directed towards the government, adulation in the name of liberty of the very thing that squashes liberty.

Two-hundred-forty years is a long time for societal continuity. Comparing the rhetoric of American life to the reality makes me wonder if our best days are behind us.

Consider, if you will, this incredible collage of 1940s-50s advertisements put together by ReasonHappy 4th: These Vintage Ads for Capitalism Will Make You Proud to Be an American, Katherine Mangu-Ward, July 2, 2016.

Reason, The Ad Council-Standard Oil.

All of the ads are unabashedly pro-American and pro-capitalism. Many celebrate the accomplishments of 1950 America compared to those from 1900. Many, like the one I display above, celebrate modern, suburban family life. Scenes like the one above look like America.

True, if we kept on comparing and contrasting some things, the 21st century would look like the good new days. My phone has vastly superior video capabilities than any television from 1950. Were I transported back to the 50s right now, I would have in my possession the two most powerful computers in the world. Our cars are safer, more fuel-efficient, better, if uglier than those from the 50s. We have 900 channels on television. Every building is air-conditioned. But, are we better for all the new, universal comforts and conveniences?

You can see something in the pictures that I don’t have to describe. All of the people pictured are happy, they are family oriented, they look dignified. They had good reason to smile while smoking pipes and watching Junior play with the dog. Back then America was growing – in terms of prosperity and of income and opportunity. They had laws and regulations then but those did not extend into every facet of daily life as they do now. By and large, we were then one big homogenous family. There was a certain comfort associated with that era which technology cannot rival.

Today all of these happy 1950s Americans would look out-of-place in most parts of our daily landscape. Can you imagine one of those well-dressed, smiling families striding through a Wal-Mart clogged with 400-pound, EBT card-wielding slobs? No. Each group would think the other recently departed from employment with the circus. Can you imagine people today talking openly and with pride about American capitalism, growth, and family oriented spirituality? No. They would be accused of committing micro-aggression upon micro-aggression.

There will be a lot of flag waving come Monday. But, more often than not today the flag is frowned upon as it may invariably offend some newly arrived intruder who sees America as little more than a welfare check and a place to convert to third world status.

Two things are to blame for this decline: the government, which seeks to dominate everything, and; the people who accept it, trading happiness and freedom and dignity for gadgets and gluttony. Loafing is not leisure. Frivolity is not freedom. What a better world we would have today if we could keep the true advancements, trade the glittering state-worship (and the state) for peaceful prosperity, and, most importantly, return to a happy, prideful sense of civilization.

When or if you celebrate this long weekend, pause to ask what you truly enjoy about post-modern America. Is it just pomp and frolicking for a day or is it a real celebration of human spirit and freedom?

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