Reflections on the Fourth of July

Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash

MSW writes:

One year ago, we knew that then-President Donald Trump had no compunction about desecrating the cultural norms that had come to surround our democracy: He insulted the press, he lied to the public (and more, way more, than most politicians lie), he tried to get the Department of Justice to function as his own private legal team. Trump made Nixon look clean.

But we did not know, and could not have known, that Trump would try and undermine the results of an election. And try he did. But for the courage and integrity of state election officials like Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, he might have succeeded. It still sends a shudder down my spine when I listen to the recording of Trump’s call to Raffensperger, when he tried to convince him to find enough votes to change the result.

States in which Republicans control the levers of government are now trying to rig future elections in ways that are truly frightening. The thing about democracy is that it presumes those who participate in it do so in good faith, that everyone is playing by the rules, that no one is trying to subvert it. That presumption is now in doubt in a way it has not been since the Civil War….

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise,” said one of democracy’s most distinguished practitioners, Winston Churchill. “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

I do not wish to try any other form of government. On this Fourth of July, it is my fervent hope that enough Americans will care to avoid putting that equation to the test, that our democracy will last a while longer, and that all of us will remember to do our bit to bolster and cultivate those habits of mind and commitments of heart that will keep it going.

Christine Emba writes:

The United States, as we are reminded every year around the Fourth of July, is an idea. Our country is not based on blood and soil, but on a promise of freedom and representation. Our 50 states form a union constantly in the process of being perfected. America is a nation founded out of dissent and discontent; the Declaration of Independence is a literal list of complaints.

And so, fellow Americans, look at flag protests, the 1619 Project, “critical race theory” and the removal of Confederate statuary from the Capitol — and consider them signs of affection, a persistent belief in the possibility of our country’s bettering itself….

Even those held up by conservatives as emulation-worthy examples of peaceful, patriotic Americans were in reality often critics of the sharpest kind. In the same “I Have a Dream” speech in which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. described the Founding Fathers’ high-minded ideals as a “promissory note” on which America could still deliver, he called for a “whirlwinds of revolt” to “shake the foundations of our nation.” In between moments of uplift, King described America’s “vicious racists” and its “shameful condition.”

So what is this more modern critique if not an expression of love?…

But for Black Americans in particular, the act of complaint should rightly be seen as a remarkable expression of commitment. Despite being consistently underserved by — indeed, often excluded completely from — the American project, they remain determined to rehabilitate it, to make it live up to our creed.

It takes a more enduring faith — a more committed patriotism — to compare America to what it could be and to press it to do better than to abandon it altogether.

EJ Dionne writes:

Maybe the best reason to love the United States is that it’s a place where people are free not to love it.

In our country, criticism is constant, disagreement is perpetual, our understanding of our own history is constantly challenged. Every generation finds something — often many things — that previous generations left in a state of terrible disrepair.

Advertising’s “new and improved” trope speaks to a restless place where things are never good enough. We’re the land of new births of freedom, New Deals and New Frontiers.

We embrace patriotic symbols with such ferocity that our protests are frequently organized around them. Athletes who take a knee during our national anthem are wrongly described as disrespectful. On the contrary: They are taking the country at its word. If we’re going to sing that we’re “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” we ought to be that place….

Progressives love our country so much that we know it’s strong enough to acknowledge how racism, nativism, religious prejudice, and other forms of injustice and intolerance are embedded in our nation’s story.

True love can never mean pretending that the object of your affections is perfect, as Baker acknowledges. It means believing that the person or country you revere is capable of transformation — and having confidence that school kids won’t love their country any less if they’re taught honestly about its flaws, its failures and even its grave sins.

In the process, they’ll also learn about the courageous Americans who rose up to right wrongs, to battle smugness, to challenge oppression and to include everyone in the magnificent “We” that opens our Constitution.