Photo source: Wikipedia Facsimile of the Declaration of Independence
If you’re feeling like me, you’re not excited about celebrating July 4, 2018 under a Trump administration. But I think we should. I know how distasteful this sounds. The thought of associating the Declaration of Independence and American patriotism with Trump is horrific.
Trump's policies are unworthy to represent America, such as his unforgivable roll back of the mentally ill’s restrictions to secure firearms to appease the NRA. While Trump is taking credit for Obama’s tireless effort, his trade wars with China, India and America’s Allies such as Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Europe, are threatening to ruin the American economy. His withdrawal from the Paris Climate agreement and his onslaught of environmental pollution is transforming our country into a poisonous, dumping ground. All this and more led to a devastating loss of international respect for the USA after Obama’s leadership, confirmed by Pew Research Center. In fact, Pew concluded that “in the closing years of the Obama presidency, a median of 64% had a positive view of the U.S. Today, just 49% are favorably inclined toward America. Again, some of the steepest declines in U.S. image are found among long-standing allies.”
Traditional Fourth of July
Trump is not the only reason to be critical of the Fourth of July. People long before his election have suffered at the expense of building this powerful nation. Native Americans, such as the Cahokia, Shawnee, the League of the Iroquois and others were either violently disposed or massacred to make room for the great American nation.
And, I know some would like for me to get over slavery. But I cannot forget all the slaves the Constitution ignored. In his speech “The Meaning of July Fourth for a Negro,” Frederick Douglass reminds us that Independence Day was not a victory for all people living in the United States, particularly for black people. Douglass confronted white Americans in his day:
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”
And that’s why black people celebrate Juneteenth—June 19, 1865, the day “Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.”
In fact, what does the Fourth of July have to do with all the groups that have been treated less equally than white, heterosexual, Protestant men throughout the history of the USA?
Douglass, the abolitionist who rebuked Fourth of July, also saw something great in the Declaration. He was keenly aware of
“the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions.”
The moral and ethical meanings of Fourth of July
Here's the deal. The ideal of America at its founding was poisoned with various self-interested motives. Some people wanted political power, wealth, freedom of religion, slaves. However, the American ideal or rather the American Dream means more than those selfish, cruel desires. The idea of America is a noble idea that transcend the hypocrisies and atrocities people have committed on behalf of America.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; the role of government to provide safe and fair conditions for people; the notion that religion does not govern the Constitution—these are some of America’s awesome ideas. But some people were too greedy, viscious and close-minded to honor such principles.
Even the Founding Fathers knew how shady people could be. They didn’t even trust each other with power. When they argued about what to put in the Constitution, the Founders were aware of the negative aspects of human nature. That’s why they divided political power into several parts and place restrictions every position of power. In fact, James Madison said:
"But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions" (Federalist Paper No. 51).
The Founders were anticipating the potential tyrants and demagogues. Imagine that? They placed safeguards around democracy (albeit for white people.)
The Founders were aware that slavery went against their professed ideals. Some wanted to end horrible practice, others wanted to extend it. Thomas Jefferson, who inherited slaves from his father, ironically addressed the evil of slavery in the Declaration of Independence before the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson, when indicting the British Crown mentioned the
“cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s [sic] most sacred rights of life & liberty in the person of distant people . . . captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.” (Pauline Maier, American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence, 1997)
Jefferson’s criticisms of slavery in the Declaration created such an uproar among many Founders that it was forced out. But that should remind us that the Declaration’s deeper meanings and significance were ignored.
Make Fourth of July Great Today
My point is that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution aspire to amazing ideals. The Fourth of July should remind us of how America has fell short of living up to them. And begin to hold this country to those ideals.
It's our job to uphold the ideals that make America great.
So, my question is: Where are the people who appreciate the meaning of “We, the people”? Where are the people who know that the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” belongs to all human beings? Where are the people who understand that government is of, by and for the people?
You are the caretakers of the deepest and grandest ideals of the USA. You are what's standing between Trump and healthcare, Ice and innocent families and children. Just like those abolitionists who did what they could to help runaway slaves.
The Fourth of July is our day. The day real patriots tell the world what America really stands for. The day we admit to our human brothers and sisters near and far that our country made big mistakes and declare we’re working correct learn from and correct our country’s errors.
The American legacy will be adorned by our protests to inhumanity, bigotry, nativism, economic inequality.
Celebrate your commitment to stand for the best you can offer your family, community, country and world!
May you all bless America!