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CNN  — 

At just about every virtual birthday party in the coronavirus era, there comes an awkward moment when people gamely try to sing Happy Birthday in unison over Zoom – and the voices don’t quite sync up.

It’s a bit like the exuberant but discordant sound ringing out from the nation as it celebrates its 244th birthday this weekend — an America unruly, hopeful, challenged — and not exactly in sync.

With a pandemic that has killed more than 125,000 Americans, as well as ongoing economic trauma and social unrest, it’s no wonder that the country is troubled this July Fourth. Douglas Bradburn, a historian who heads George Washington’s Mount Vernon, wrote that many believe this “revolutionary experiment in democracy … is failing. A recent Gallup poll shows that national pride in the United States is at a record low. Our country’s increasing division and the unwillingness by some to participate in a healthy civilized debate and listen to dissenting opinions is fostering greater fissures.”

But he urged Americans not to forget that “we, the people, control the meaning of equality and popular rule in our future, which is our inheritance and our great trust.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth argued that “doing the tireless, often thankless work necessary to effect change is what American patriotism has always been about.” She sharply criticized President Donald Trump, “who, day after day, wraps himself in the flag in the morning, but reverts back to tribalism by the afternoon.” She noted that “marching and chanting, grieving and kneeling, countless Americans have braved tear gas and rubber bullets over the past six weeks to send an unequivocal message to their elected leaders: that they will not stand idly by as racial injustice continues to tear at our country.”

The protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd “make this Fourth of July perhaps the most important in American history,” wrote historian Peniel Joseph. “Independence Day 2020 is imbued with new meaning about what it means to be an American, rooted in a collective effort to squarely confront the bitter and beautiful struggles that shape our profoundly historic present.”

For weeks, Trump has chosen to emphasize “law and order” rather than the cause of the protesters, appealing to his base with promises to defend statues and military bases tied to the Confederacy. A week ago, he tweeted a video shot at a Florida senior community where pro-Trump residents paraded in golf carts, with a man shouting “white power.” The tweet was removed, and aides said Trump hadn’t heard the incendiary phrase before posting it.

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“Trump’s sharing this video was not a mistake,” Dean Obeidallah wrote. “The President, who finds himself trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by up to 14 points in a range of polls, is simply following his successful 2016 campaign playbook, where he trafficked in bigotry to divide Americans. We saw it from his baseless claim that Mexico was sending ‘rapists’ to calling for a ‘total and complete shutdown’ on Muslims entering America. … But what could’ve been seen as disturbing dog whistle, racist politics by a candidate is even more jarringly out of place in 2020.”

In a Friday night speech before a holiday fireworks display at Mount Rushmore, Trump railed against protesters and vowed to defend monuments and the memory of presidents from George Washington to Theodore Roosevelt, seeking to fan a culture war that his campaign views as a winning strategy for November. “Breathe easy, America,” wrote Michael D’Antonio. “President Donald Trump’s got this. A deadly pandemic is tearing through the country, but the statues are going to be all right. … Always eager to be seen as a fighter and a champion, Trump left out the real battle he is losing – to the coronavirus – and invented another so that he could pose as a valiant defender of this country.

Jay Parini is hopeful this July Fourth weekend. “I teach at a college, and I’m awe-struck by the young people I meet in the classroom, who have quite simply lost all patience with racism. They understand that most White people have barely an inkling about what Black and brown Americans put up with every day, and how hard it remains to get ahead if you’re a person of color.”

In the months following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, 92% of Americans aged 18 to 29 identified themselves in a Harvard University survey as patriotic; that number is only 62% this year, wrote Harvard students Katie Heintz and Will Matheson in CNN Opinion’s “Generation Resilient” series.

Young people “have a vision for the future, and it includes an acute sense of altruism and optimism,” they wrote, but also discouragement witht the current state of US politics and the economy. “Patriotism is a two-way street. If we don’t want to lose a generation’s belief in this nation entirely, our elected leaders and our institutions will have to rise to the challenges we face in a way they haven’t yet.”

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