The following sticker appears on the back of two of my motorcycle helmets:

I’m not a Democrat.

I’m not a Republican.

I’m an American.

There is a difference.

That sticker sums up my philosophy and my feelings about my country. My beliefs and my soul belong to no political party, no ideology, no philosophical organization and no other group with an agenda that supplants love of country or belief in the principles that guided our founding father on that July 4th in 1776 when they put their lives, the property and their freedom on the line to sign the Declaration of Independence.

On this July 4th, I wonder if most out there remember — truly remember — what it means to be an American?

Somehow, I doubt it.

Nowadays, the 4th is — for too many — an excuse to party, get drunk and forget — if possible — the many problems that inflict this nation.  Too many ignore the true meaning of Independence Day. Too few get a lump in their throat when Old Glory flies or the band plays the Star Spangled Banner. Too few even fly the flag on this most sacred of purely-American holidays.

Too many today identify themselves primarily not as Americans but as Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals, members of a tea party or its left-wing equivalent.  Each group — whether left or right — claims to be the ones who stand for the “real America,” yet none of them do.

Sadly, the nation founded on the belief of individual freedom, of freedom of thought and expression, of individuality has become a divided country where diverse groups battle each other for the right to dominate our thoughts, our actions and our allegiance.

Each party, each group, each gathering of ideologues demand lock-step obedience to a narrowly-defined set of beliefs. Those who display any signs of independence become outcasts or traitors to the cause.

Reasoned debate vanishes in a storm of discord, driven by bitterness, hate and ignorance. Those with opposing points of view become targets of derision. Differing viewpoints bring insults or even threats.  Diversity becomes a badge of dishonor.

I don’t pretend to have any answers to the many problems that threaten America today. I’m not smart enough to offer up any solutions.

I’m simply an American who looks at dismay to what is happening to the country I love and wonder what — if anything — can be done.

Are pride in country, celebrations of freedom and patriotism outmoded concepts?

God, I hope not.

I’d hate to see the Star Spangled Banner replaced by Taps as the national anthem.

I’m not a Democrat.

I’m not a Republican.

I’m not a conservative.

I’m not a liberal.

I’m not a progressive or  a regressive.

I’m not an Anglo-Saxon, African-American, Hispanic-American or anything else.

I’m simply an American and damn proud of it.