If you're lucky enough to be free of work on this long Independence Day weekend, the best way to commemorate the occasion is to celebrate your freedom from politics — your freedom to withdraw from the tumult and churn of political life, to focus on your own life and family and friends and neighbors, to embrace the private part of life, recognizing that this is where the core of life truly resides.
This weekend is a perfect time to disconnect.
From everything — from the Democratic presidential triathlon, from any news that breaks between Wednesday evening and Monday morning, and most especially from President Trump's polarizing and self-aggrandizing military parade in the nation's capital. Just tune it out. Let it pass by without a moment's thought.
For many Americans, political apathy (sometimes driven by disgust) is the norm. That's not great for the health of our civic life. Indifference can breed corruption, as those in positions of power go about the business of advancing their selfish pursuits without adequate oversight of public opinion.
But the apathy is also unsurprising — and in a certain respect not even dishonorable, at least when it's kept within limits. Like the limits of a single long, lazy summer weekend during which we should be devoting a bit of time to reflecting on what has always made America distinctive and worthy of love.
Different traditions of political theory and practice flowed into the founding of the United States as an independent nation. One powerful stream was the civic republican tradition that treats political activity, devotion to the common good, and the placing of the public interest ahead of individual pursuits as both noble and the path to human fulfillment at its peak. That's an admirable and stirring way of viewing politics. And in our world of rampant individualism, it's well worth reviving, nurturing, and encouraging.
But not this weekend.
This weekend, let's take note of another tradition that informs and shapes our national life. That's the tradition of classical liberalism that valorizes private life — that places individuals, families, and other private, voluntary associations at the foundation of society and views politics as a conditional good, with its value and worthiness earned only to the extent that it allows those individuals, families, and voluntary associations to flourish and thrive.
Maybe politics is your hobby and you'll choose to follow along this weekend. If that's your choice, enjoy. But if politics is a distraction or an irritation, if it's something you try to ignore but sometimes follow out of a sense of obligation, if hearing Donald Trump's voice sends you into a rage or seeing Nancy Pelosi's face makes you want to spit, or if you just find the whole thing an unedifying and even degrading distraction from what really matters in life — then by all mean let go, pretend none of it exists, and place your focus where it belongs: on your kids and parents and siblings, on your friends and lovers and spouses, on your neighbors and coworkers.
Viewed through a classical liberal lens, this is what counts. The ignoble spectacle taking place in Washington and broadcast to all 320 million of us on TV, on the radio, into our pockets and purses through your phones and their insidious, attention-demanding apps — that isn't what counts.
The non-political parts of ourselves are what most of us live for. They are what most powerfully preoccupy us, and for good reason. They are what matter — what we work for, what we love for, and what will be the focus of our fear and laments when we confront our own deaths. It's safe to say that hardly any of us will be thinking about politics on the day we die.
In the ancient and Renaissance republics that fostered a stern civic republic ethic, this wasn't necessarily the case. In those times and places, a life devoted to private pursuits was dismissed as dishonorable and base, and death anywhere other than the political fray, in the midst of a self-abnegating battle for the common good, denigrated as beneath a person's dignity. The good man and the good citizen were viewed as one.
But not here, not in America. Here we live for ... life itself. We do politics because we have to — to ensure that what really matters is protected — and not primarily for its own sake.
And that's ok. It's better than ok. It's an important part of what makes us Americans, and what has always made America great.