Immigration issues are one of the big causes of the current national argument, but the fact that we're having the argument is in itself a part of the answer to that question.
An American is generally willing to argue until blue in the face over how things ought to be done and why his or her opinion is right, and we live in a nation where the right to make that argument is guaranteed.
It is in our blood and in our tradition to argue over politics and government and affairs of state (some say more in the blood in Acadiana than in lots of other places), and it is a sign of our national vitality that we are such a vociferous bunch.
The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the laws that we live under were all created amid heated debate - most of them about the basic question of just who an American is and who an American isn't.
Pride figures into the definition. It's hard to look at what this nation has achieved and not be proud to be an American.
We've slipped backward a time or two - part of the ongoing American argument is about which direction we're heading - but we've never been afraid to spit on our hands and grab the old ax and keep building on the work of pioneers.
Sometimes our arguments get a little mean-spirited and out of hand - remember the Civil War? But somehow we've always been able to eventually put aside even big differences to pull together for a common cause and for our freedom - remember World War II?
We've got our philosophers and thinkers, but we tend to be a practical bunch - tinkerers and mechanics and builders - whether we're wrestling with a big idea or trying to keep our big nation on the right path. But that doesn't mean we can't dream big too. This nation came from dreams of freedom and equality for all.
We dreamed of building railroads that span the nation, creating world-class cities where once there was nothing but forest or open prairie, of putting Americans on the moon. And, by golly, we made those dreams come true.
There is substance to the phrase "the American dream." It is a dream we live every day. Independence Day is a good day to pause and think about just how fortunate we are to live in this land of dreams and opportunity and to realize anew why our dream, our nation, is still envied around the world.
What does it mean to be an American?
We each have our own answer to that - to how our American dream should turn into reality. Ask us and we'll tell you why our vision is the right one and how those idiots in (take your pick, city hall, Baton Rouge, Washington, DC) are too blind to recognize it, Or sometimes we'll tell you even if you don't ask.
That's our right and our privilege, and it goes with a whole set of other rights and privileges that make us the freest and proudest and greatest people on the globe, and none of us would trade that for anything in the world.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.