The Fourth of July has become about flag-waving, fireworks, potato salad, and a day off from work. There’s nothing particularly wrong with any of those things, except perhaps excessive flag-waving, but they do not represent what Independence Day was really about. If you read the declaration, one of the most striking things about it is how much is devoted to critiquing the colonial governments of the Americas. While the ideals of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, self rule, and accountability are all in there, the majority of the words are devoted to pointing out the failings and flaws of the current regime. The Declaration of Independence was an eloquently phrased 18th century version of Twisted Sister’s “We’re not gonna take it anymore.”
July 4th should be about looking at our own government, seeing how well it serves our needs, and challenging it to improve and serve us better. Remember that in the Declaration it states that governments rule by the consent of the governed. They can only tell us what to do so long as we are okay with that. The right to revolution is written into the Declaration as clear as day. Safety and Happiness are mentioned in the declaration. Patriotism is not. Those who claim that July 4th should be a time to celebrate our founders (and, it is implied. our betters) willfully miss the point of the holiday. We are not, or at least should not be, celebrating merely the one revolution that happened to produce our society; we are celebrating the very idea of revolution. We are celebrating the sacrifice and danger inherent in making demands on those in positions of power, and the fact that individuals are capable of defeating an empire if there are enough of them and they want it badly enough. This is not a time to blindly cheer our troops and leaders and whatever our country is doing at the time, it is a time to audit our government and seeing if it is truly acting in the interest, and by the license, of the people.
I would submit that this government is not. Our war in Iraq was popular only thanks to a campaign of misinformation waged on us from the top echelons of our government. Our government seeks at every turn to curtail our rights and deny even citizens of these United States due process of law. It has fought tooth and nail for its ‘right’ to secrecy to supersede the people’s right to know what our leaders are up to. It has perverted tax law to serve business and the wealthy few, it has waged war on the IRS rather than tax cheats, and it has lied about what it is doing at every turn. The crimes that our current government is guilty of are at least comparable to some of the crimes for which the British government was indicted by our founding fathers. This should ring bitter in our ears on this holiday above all others.
So why are we allowing this to happen? It is because America has become the land of complacency. One of the most common refrains you hear today when you complain about this country, or indeed any institution that you are a member of, is that you ought to either love it or leave it. This is the most complacent and unsatisfactory argument out there. The answer to challenges should be either explanation, as to why things are better as they are, or why the cost of change would be too great, or actual change. July 4th 1776 took place during the enlightenment, an age when reason was prized above all else as the appropriate motivator for action. If we want to honor our founders then we should revive that ideal of reason as the guiding light of the nation and opt for debate over dismissal, no matter how great the challenge being made or how cherished the institution being challenged. This is not the case, people are all too happy to wave a flag, jump up and down, and declare that they are satisfied with the way things are. They are happy to take the position that the Tories (who we like to forget were a majority) took during the revolution. When we venerate Jefferson, Hamilton, and Paine we are venerating the radical left. When we praise Washington we are praising the rebel leader. It is easy to forget these things. America has become fat and lazy, not just or even primarily physically but of spirit and mind. We have seen the budding plutocracy grab power, we’ve seen our young men and women sent off to the sand to die in a colonial operation quite similar to that undertaken by the British when they wished to regain control over their 13 colonies in North America. What’s the difference between the suicide bombers and Washington’s guerillas? It’s a matter of technique and honor, but not of intent. The majority of Iraqis support the American occupation? The majority of Americans supported the British occupation. These are things to think upon.
What am I suggesting as the solution? It is not armed rebellion, I do not think we are at that point yet, and as a practical matter the current U.S. military machine dwarfs in power the redcoat wearing British army. It was not hard to find guns and knives among farmers who needed weapons to protect their livestock and livelihoods from a variety of predators. There aren’t many F-14 Tomcats owned by the urbanized population of our country today. More importantly, though, we still have our votes, and though they are manipulated, gerrymandered, and sometimes outright discarded, we must use them. We must find candidates who represent us and overwhelm the scoundrels at Diebold and among the current parties with the clamor of our voices at the ballot box. The majority might disagree, but the majority does not vote. It is our duty, to our founders and to our country, to mobilize those who do have correct ideas to get out and cast their votes, and to change the minds of those benighted souls who have been won over by propaganda. Talking about politics is not rude or divisive; it is the definition of patriotism. It is what Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin did before that fateful day.
Politeness has no place except as a tactical maneuver in this war for hearts and minds. Get out there. Be rude. Get in people’s faces and challenge their thinking, challenge their complacency, challenge them. I’m not saying that I am perfect in this respect, because I am not. I do, however, recognize that flaw and I’m working on it. There were nights when John Jay preferred mulled wine and light conversation to working on forging a more perfect union, but they were few enough for him to have his say.
Educate yourselves, urge those around you to educate themselves, make up your mind, and work to make this country better. That will serve it far more than any amount of praying, cheering, or repeating hollow rhetoric ever could. Independence day is a time for independent thought, for cynicism and suspicion, and for initiating change. Take advantage of it.
P.S. I realize that this is July 7th, not the 4th. That’s okay. I’m just declaring my independence from the Gregorian calendar system, and demonstrating that we shouldn’t limit patriotism and caring about our country to the days designated to us by our massas in the big house.