Two anniversaries, one just concluded and one approaching, should prompt some thinking about the nature and purpose of such occasions, and specifically those of national scale.

This summer, the Chinese Communist Party commemorated its centennial in the style at which dictatorships specialize. Everyone from the smallest children to the highest officialdom was “invited” to applaud the successes of the past hundred years — the latest 2 percent of Chinese history. The events were uniformly grandiose and uplifting. Never was heard a discouraging word.

This nationwide gala coincided with a surge of nationalistic fervor, much state-sponsored but much apparently spontaneous, among many Chinese citizens and, it is reported, especially the young. Enthusiasm for Confucianism, with its emphasis on obedience and respect for authority, is growing in concert with calls for wenhua zixin, or “cultural self-confidence.”

President Xi Jinping’s speeches and party propaganda during the centennial pounded the theme of China’s coming dominance over an economically fading and culturally decadent United States. The picture presented to the nation and the world was of a China about to resume its rightful place as the center of the world after a brief interruption by effete Western values.

Meanwhile, July Fourth celebrations reminded many Americans of the imminence of our own next big anniversary, the 250th, “Semiquincentennial” (yikes, can we find maybe a four-or-five-syllable term for it?) of the Declaration of Independence in 2026.

It will be an unusually telling occasion. The way we choose to commemorate that event will define not only who we are as a society today but also who we will be, a successful, world-leading society or, as Xi sees us, one en route to self-imposed decline.

Predictably, and sadly, the first calls are being heard for using the 250th as yet another occasion to dwell on America’s shortcomings. One interest group looks forward to a “new" patriotism based on “radical honesty” about the nation’s systemic betrayal of its ideals and vital principles.

Well, that would be one way. Boy, I’m sure glad I’m not on the invite list when these folks celebrate family landmarks. They must be a real blast: “Happy Anniversary, dear. Here’s a list of all the things you’ve done to disappoint, anger and betray me over the past year.” Or “Happy birthday, son. Let’s go over all your failures and unacceptable actions during your life so far.” But that’s the use to which some believe we should put our 250th.

Imagine what even a tiny gesture of non-radical honesty would have led to during the CCP’s centennial. We can be sure there were no apologies for Mao Zedong’s murdered millions, no wreath-layings at Tiananmen Square or protests at the gates of Uyghur concentration camps, no teach-ins about the dehumanization of omnipresent state surveillance and “social credit” systems. Anyone murmuring about any of these “systemic” wrongs would risk finding himself on the receiving end of the holiday fireworks.

No one is calling for ignoring any of America’s inequities, past or present. Americans’ capacity for self-criticism is a laudable, essential part of our democratic tradition, and a major reason for the improvements we continue to make in extending freedom. The question raised here is whether a historic anniversary is the time for even more of it, or whether there is not value in pausing now and then to appreciate and recognize the good in a person, or a nation.

July 4, 1776, marked a huge step forward out of a world of monarchy into a new world of freedom, opportunity and self-government. It was very far from the last step, or a complete step, but undeniably it was a forward one. The autocrats of the time understood that and trembled. The oppressed of the world understood that and drew heart from it. It was a watershed event in human history.

We have all year, every year, to examine — I almost said "wallow in" — our shortcomings. There should still be moments when, welcoming differing views, as always, we accentuate the positive, celebrate the goodness of our people and the good that the nation has done in its first quarter-millennium.

We should welcome the new attention to Juneteenth as a new day of celebration, for the most positive of reasons. It marks not the largest blot on our history but its eradication, the stamping out of slavery, by a White-dominated nation resolved to take its next step forward. That victory was accomplished through the sacrificial death of hundreds of thousands of its men. That is cause not for self-recrimination but for pride, as July 2026 should be.

A successful society for all requires constant self-examination but also a strong degree of confidence and morale. A nation with our history, whose main adversaries today are a 7th-century theocracy, an oligarchic kleptocracy and a totalitarian autocracy, has every reason, at least on a landmark birthday, to observe author Alex Haley’s maxim: “Find the good and praise it.”