Listening to the fireworks, I don’t have a whole lot of love for July 4th, and I never have. It’s a holiday that admittedly means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and I have every ounce of respect for that, the grandson of a World War II vet, an Eagle scout, and like most of us, someone who carries in him the blood of immigrants. There’s a grand vision of America we can all aspire to buried in the holiday, to be sure, and maybe–were I a better man–I could look for that vision in this holiday all the time.
But, instead, I can’t shake that there’s something sick–literally, something ill-inducing–about the vapid celebration of a dying democracy. Maybe it’s the inability to tell apart fireworks from the sounds you’d expect from a mass shooting grown all too common in this “free” country. Maybe it’s devastating wildfires (nearly 20,000 caused by fireworks in 2018, the latest data I could find) that as climate change grows worse by the year inevitably mark the celebration as absolutely irresponsible.
Or maybe it’s the rampant nationalism that surrounds the holiday.
“Patriot” is a loaded term, like most unexamined American metaphors for what it means to love your country. There’s a kind of “worship” these days of the red, white, and blue that I find not just off-putting but dangerous. Thousands of “patriots” thought it “patriotic” to storm our Capitol just months ago, waving the American flag on their belief that the gallows they built for Congressional leaders was part of their “patriotic” duty as citizens to “protect and defend” our society. And how quickly we’ve moved on, forgotten, returned to the American rituals that supposedly unite us. That mistake will cost us dearly.
I personally cannot look at the flag, at fireworks, at any form of nationalism and forget them or what they did–or what they still wish to do. And not just the Oath Keepers or the Proud Boys or the Three Percenters, and not just everyday Trump supporters who were there, or who wished they could have been there. But in some sense, worse: the voices of authority within the Republican party who let everyone believe the “Big lie,” the voices within the media who amplified the lie, and the Democratic party which has done little to nothing to hold anyone accountable, near guaranteeing the eventual collapse of these United States into full-on fascism; I’d give us ten to twenty years, but climate change could hasten our demise.
Suffice to say, I’m tempted to have nothing to do with any form of patriotism, lest I be associated with those terrorists, the lot of them, but then, that on some level seems to concede the country and its better angels to these hate-filled patriots, from their cult-like violence to their total fecklessness.
So I’ll do what I can, on a day like today, to remember that America was also the Emancipation Proclamation. It was the Stonewall riots. It was Martin Luther King and peaceful protests. It was Malcolm X and the necessary confrontation of police brutality. America was women’s suffrage. It was organized labor unions and trans rights protests. It was and is all of those things still, and no amount of right-wing hate will ever succeed in destroying that that’s what it was or what it will still strive to be.
We look to our divisions and sigh and grow sad. But division can be healthy and necessary and good, because at the end of the day, we cannot allow ourselves to be “united” to the kind of white supremacy seeking full-on theocratic authoritarian rule. In time, the 4th may come to have new significance, hopefully against that evil. We have a long road ahead of us.
Until then, at the very least, I’ll ignore the fireworks as best I can.