If we were great, our politicians would put country over party; if we were great, we would have a healthy opposition demanding electoral reform; if we were great, we would have healthcare for all and not let people die simply because they don’t have enough money; if we were great, the wealthy would not have such an inordinate influence on our politics; if we were great, over 30,000 people wouldn’t die from guns each year; and if we were great, we would not have a white supremacist and habitual dissembler as president. Ross Rosenfeld, No Reason to Light Fireworks this 4th of July, The Hill
Like Ross Rosenfeld, I’m not looking forward to Independence Day this year. It’s always a mixed bag anyway, the sulfurous clouds of ceaseless and mostly senseless backyard fireworks clogging the air, and sounding unnervingly like the barrages of mass shooting gunfire that have killed nearly 160 people in the U.S. this year alone.
This year, especially, I think we need a day of silence and perhaps a bit of black veiled mourning, more than fireworks and soapbox speeches lauding the greatness of a nation whose storied constitutional republic has clearly and disappointingly faltered, facing a worrisome erosion of constitutional rights, a hemorrhaging loss of basic civility and an unprecedented decline in global confidence.
Instead of making America great, the current political climate is popularizing ignorance, and regressing the nation into provincial, puritanical, racist, and isolationist views that have no place in the 21st century.
Citing a report called “Freedom in the World 2018,” US News reported back in January that global freedom overall is declining, and at an unprecedented rate right here at home.
“In the first year of the Donald Trump presidency, as the U.S. is seen to retreat from the world stage and other nations view it less favorably, the country experienced “faster erosion of America’s own democratic standards than at any other time in memory”, said US News.
The U.S. experienced a three point decline in the freedom index in just one year – “rare for an established democracy” – noted Freedom House. When the United States is listed among nations like Afganistan, Angola, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Uzebekistan as “Countries to watch in 2018”, because they “may be approaching important turning points in their democratic trajectory, and deserve special scrutiny during the coming year” that’s not really something to celebrate. It’s an infection that’s spreading, according to the National Endowment for Democracy.
“In advanced democracies, leaders no longer promote democratic values as their predecessors once did. And the publics they represent are themselves less committed to democracy. In certain key countries, including the United States, publics are divided into intolerant communities that will happily endorse undemocratic procedures, provided these bring harm to rivals,” says Timur Kuran, of Duke University, quoted in an April Democracy Digest article titled “Has Democracy Lost its Global Appeal?”
How does this trickle down? In increasing incivility in all camps as frustrations boil over and, in the U.S. , as our leadership sets the bar low by exhibiting divisive and boorish conduct in public office. The 8th installment of the Civility in America survey and report, by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate conducted with KRC Research “found large majorities of the public agreeing that incivility is a major societal problem that is getting worse, promoting political gridlock, causing people to disengage from politics and leading to intolerance of free speech.”
Emma Lazarus’ poem, The New Colossus, written in 1883 and set at the base of the Statue of Liberty, reads in part:
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door! “
As a child, I was inspired by that poem and proud of the inclusive social embrace it promised. I knew my Italian and Jewish ancestors had traveled beneath the statue’s upheld torch in the late 1800s, and I knew my Cuban relatives had come to our shores under that same welcoming call in the 1950s.
Today, our president ironically spins into a cautionary tale supporting his caustic views on immigration, the lyrics of The Snake, a 1960s song written by Oscar Brown, Jr., an African American singer, songwriter, social activist and former Communist Party member from Chicago. However, Brown’s family, who has issued a cease and desist letter to the president, says the song was intended to caution against people like our president.
“The snake was basically written to outline something like what Trump is doing! It’s actually amazing to me, because I know he would have said it’s about him! If we let you in, and we see what you are, then we shouldn’t be surprised when we get what we get. Everyone sees what he’s standing for, and my father would’ve seen what he’s standing for immediately,” Brown’s daughter, Africa, said in a CBC interview in 2016.
So this Independence Day, as the United States of America struggles to find its true identity, to decide whether we’re truly a constitutional republic, or a young fascist regime, a welcoming pluralistic society or an isolationist, provincial one – I’m all for snuffing the fireworks in favor of revisiting the Declaration of Independence that it’s all about in the first place.
It was an imperfect union from the beginning, but America has always been characterized by progress and self-improvement. This is not the time to give in to racism, misogyny, and social intolerance, to set back the doomsday clock,destroy our diminishing natural resources, reject science and retreat from the global community.
There is indeed a venomous snake in our midst, but it is not immigrants seeking the American Dream, and we shouldn’t let the bread and circuses of patriotic pomp and circumstance blind us to the systemic dangers facing our nation, from the inside, out – not at our borders.
As Ross Rosenfeld wrote a year ago this week, “This Fourth of July should be met with protests, not pride. Anyone who truly believes in the tenets of freedom and republicanism shouldn’t be lighting fireworks, but lighting a fire beneath our politicians, demanding change.”
A year later, that’s still true, and more imperative than ever. If you need some inspiration, check out this 4th of July Protest Songs Playlist at Esquire, find your voice and wield it loudly and with conviction.