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This Fourth of July, an anxious America looks back and ahead

The United States Navy Blue Angels fly past an American flag during the Westmoreland County Airshow last month at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.

This Fourth of July — America’s birthday and our annual celebration of patriotism and national pride — comes as many Americans say they are nervous about the future of the country. But it’s not the nation’s first fraught Fourth. Here’s a look back at what the papers that ultimately formed The San Diego Union-Tribune have said in prior July 4th editorials about the anxieties of our great nation.

On July 4, 1930, as the Great Depression wiped out jobs and wealth across the nation, a San Diego Tribune editorial looked to America’s founding for inspiration: “Those early moulders of Americanism were first of all revolutionists. Their philosophy was a philosophy of change, of constant questioning and constant growth. The vitality of this concept insured its survival. And it has survived. … The fathers would not be content. But they might be encouraged by what their creation … is doing today.”

That same year, the San Diego Union’s editorial seemed impatient with the idea of “looking backward” to figure out how to handle the problems of the day: “The very essence of [the fathers’] deeds was a defiance of the past, a break with tradition. … To guarantee liberty to the common man in an exacting industrial civilization, to preserve justice in a complicated political structure, to offer equal opportunity in a society top-heavy with wealth — those are tasks calling for a manhood as fine and inspired and forward-looking as any that responded to the first brave clanging of the Liberty Bell.”

In 1942, eight months after the U.S. entered World War II, the San Diego Tribune-Sun’s July 4th editorial had a dour tone: “Never before have we celebrated a 4th of July so grimly as we are celebrating this one. … This 4th of July we are working at home and fighting abroad to turn the tides of battle toward victory, and whether we win or lose will depend on how hard we work and how determinedly we fight. This fateful 4th of July we are celebrating our independence by defending it.”

In 1968, after rioting and protests over the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the San Diego Union ran a July 4 editorial that was written in the style of the Declaration of Independence, holding that the newspaper found “these truths to be self-evident … That a nation with irresponsible citizenry cannot long endure; that anarchy, exhibitionism and immorality are destructive of the national fiber. That no nation can long endure which tolerates lawlessness and weakening of forces of law and order. … That propaganda is not education; that intellectual brainwashing is not academic freedom and that rioting and exhibitionism on our campuses is a betrayal of free speech.”

The Evening Tribune’s July 4th editorial that year was more worried about “godless and dehumanizing … collectivist states” than any threat from within: “By whatever name they are known, they are as inimical to the cause of liberty as were the stubborn and misguided decrees of King George III. And the same determination will be required to defeat them.”

On July 4th, 1974, with Washington paralyzed by the Watergate scandal and the House Judiciary Committee just three weeks away from voting for three articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon, the Evening Tribune’s editorial expressed faith in the nation’s ability to weather hard times: “As we see it, America nears the bicentennial as a person coming of age. We do not agree with the pessimistic assumption that nations, having spanned two centuries, must by the sheer weight of time languish and retire to oblivion … this nation not only will endure, it will prevail.”

The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board endorses this last sentiment. For all of our nation’s divisions, America has enormous strengths, only starting with our founding framework, our talented populace and our vast and remarkable resilience.

For those nervous about the nation’s future, America’s staying power is worth noting, too.

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