Last week Sarah at Future Majority wrote about the lasting negative impacts recessions can have on society, decimating a generation’s collective trust placed in important financial institutions and processes.

There’s another side to this recession coin, though. As cliche as it may be, one large opportunity we as Americans have is to re-examine what really matters to us. I’m not invoking that mushy stuff about “living like you’re dying,” or seizing the day, living as if every day is your last. Unfortunately deaths occur every day that reinforce the fragility of life. Recessions force us to get back to basics. We have to clean out our closets, separating the SWAG of life from the non-negotiables.

This perspective was reflected in last year’s presidential campaign. Barack Obama was lambasted by conservatives for refusing to wear a flag pin on his jacket’s lapel. The audacity! Then-candidate Obama would go on to explain that patriotism is more than whether or not one places a piece of metal on one’s coat.

“Somebody noticed I wasn’t wearing a flag lapel pin and I told folks, well you know what? I haven’t probably worn that pin in a very long time. I wore it right after 9/11. But after a while, you start noticing people wearing a lapel pin, but not acting very patriotic. Not voting to provide veterans with resources that they need. Not voting to make sure that disability payments were coming out on time.

“My attitude is that I’m less concerned about what you’re wearing on your lapel than what’s in your heart. And you show your patriotism by how you treat your fellow Americans, especially those who served. You show your patriotism by being true to our values and our ideals and that’s what we have to lead with is our values and our ideals.”

Since September 2001, many a politician, with an eye on the patriotism market, donned those flag pins. They became a part of our culture. The conventional wisdom never questioned them. And I’d wager that if a candidate refused to wear a pin before the economy’s crumble, say John Kerry in 2004, the refusal would have been met with scorn and powerful attacks by the GOP on Kerry’s patriotism that would have stuck (the Swift Boat stuff could have been irrelevant). But Obama’s decision to shed the pin and explanation came too far into Bush’s term. By that point, the Bush administration’s complacency in dealing with Hurricane Katrina had already been well-noticed on the Gulf Coast and everywhere else. People had already sensed that families were losing their brave patriots in a war that shouldn’t have been fought. And signs of a faltering economy were already prevalent. Suddenly problem-solving mattered more than symbols. Before the chaos, symbolic warfare may have captivated Americans; following the storm, it didn’t matter.

The back-to-basics theme is relevant around a holiday like the Fourth of July, a day on which we commemorate the blood, sweat, tears, and everything else that coalesced into the United States of America. On a day that sees many customs observed, there is none bigger than fireworks. Unfortunately, even the most basic of customs comes with a hefty price tag. Paired with the worst economic climate in decades, the price is becoming too much for many communities to bear, setting up a “y” in the road: pay for an hour-long fireworks show, or retain jobs.

Average Americans have been able to enjoy past Independence Days, free from the burden of severe financial pressure and other things that a bad economy brings. Pleasant memories of these times yield some cognitive dissonance for these same Americans when presented with today’s fork in the road: fireworks or their troubled pursuit of happiness?

Euclid, Ohio, profiled in the Los Angeles Times this week, is one of many communities struggling with this very decision.

People have long considered the fireworks a treasure of this Cleveland suburb, where flags fly year-round in neighborhoods of bungalows and stores post signs for passersby to “support our troops.”

But the fireworks and singing along to “The Star-Spangled Banner” on a warm summer night — and the police and firefighters needed to manage the 30,000 people who turn out — don’t come cheap.

So this year, Euclid will have no fireworks. “I’m 55 years old and I can’t remember not going to one of these,” Cervenik said.

As the economic crisis has dragged on, city leaders around the country say fireworks are a luxury they can no longer afford. Big and small, urban and rural, the skies will remain dark over at least four dozen communities nationwide come July 4.

“It came down to this: Did we want to spend $150,000 on something that would be over in a few hours?” Cervenik said. “Or did we want to use that money to keep city workers employed?”

Fireworks don’t mean much when quality of life is seriously threatened, just as flag pins don’t carry the same value when the pursuit of happiness we treasure is in peril.

Euclid officials and the leaders of other communities choosing to sacrifice fireworks shows in the name of economic viability should be applauded. This choice, while wrenching, presents an opportunity to shine the spotlight on that which is really the most influential to our collective pursuits. It forces us to recognize that flag pins and fireworks exist because of something bigger. It forces us to separate that SWAG from the non-negotiables of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.