Americans have always loved celebration of their Independence Day. It is a time to be reminded, whatever the adversities of the moment, that the United States is endowed with a glorious heritage of democracy. That its people, a vibrant and vigorous mix of races, nationalities, religions, cultures, are united by a common love of freedom. That its institutions are founded on and protected by the enduring principles of constitutional government. Somehow, amid the din of July Fourth picnics, parades, and fireworks, the American people drop their everyday concerns long enough to link hands and feel themselves a privileged nation.
This year's jubilee has a special glow. For the front-page news these summer days is that the American people have shaken off the national pessimism that seemed to grip them in the past few years and are once again feeling good about their country and its future. The gross national product may not be in the best of shape. But something called the "gross national spirit" -- as measured in such things as personal satisfaction, family finances, national performance, prospects for the future, and political leadership -- is definitely bouncing back, according to the Roper Center at the University of Connecticut.Roper and a number of other surveys find, despite lingering economic and other disappointments, an optimistic faith that the United States is on the mend and still has a significant role to play in the world.
How to account for the change? Could part of the answer be found in the significant headline that the "me decade" is over? Noted social analyst Daniel Yankelovich sees the American public shifting from the "self-fulfillment" obsession of the 1970s to a greater commitment to family, neighbors, community, coworkers. Inflation, it seems, has eroded the drive for material gratification while all the emphasis on "me-ism" has left people empty and lonely and reaching out for the satisfactions that come of serving and sharing with others. Among youth, religion is more openly talked about again. Surely this turning of thought outward, this reassertion of religious beliefs, has something to do with the return of national buoyancy.
Nor can one discount the lift which a new President has brought. By his genial feistiness and by his own optimistic nature, Ronald Reagan seems to be infusing the nation with a feeling that change for the better is possible.
Hope, of course, is one thing and results are another. The challenge to national leadership will be to harness the more bullish public mood for a renewal of America's institutions and values in a way that leaves no citizens out. Whether this will be done remains to be seen. But, for the moment, there is ample cause for resilient Americans to celebrate a "Happy Fourth!"