The Fourth Of July In Perilous Times

What are we to make of our nation as we celebrate 241 years of Independence?
Dawn on the Mississippi
Dawn on the Mississippi

By many metrics, we have fulfilled the Founders’ wildest imaginings and much more. From our small community of colonies, huddled mostly on the Eastern shore of the Atlantic Ocean, we spanned the continent on foot, horseback, and by wagons, and then by rail and telegraph, then by telephones, roads and radio, and, eventually, by air, Interstate Highways, television, and, of course, the Internet.

From the base of our most sacred document, the Declaration of Independence, to the apex of our place in the world, when we were, not that long ago, a steadfast beacon of welcoming, the American journey was freighted with uncertainty, perfidy, disunion, avarice, and inhumanity. When it served our national purpose, we rose above the mud of our fears and distrust, and we sacrificed the Republic’s blood and treasure to help a world at war—not once, not twice, not three times…but over and over even unto this day.

Our institutions of science, higher education, and entrepreneurship are unrivaled and have launched America toward a glittering constellation of rights and advantages enjoyed nowhere else in the world. E pluribus unum—out of many, one, a motto worthy of a great nation.

The ascension of a poseur and profligate prince of shame to the White House last November changed everything, and left any motto of national aspiration blown away like ashes in the wind.

When I tried to find references to parallel our current time of national peril, peril at the hands of a tyrant for whom public service and public trust are unknown philosophies, I fell to Patrick Henry’s remarks on patriotism in March of 1775. You know the speech, surely you do. Its closing clarion call, prophetic as it was then, is no less predictive now,

“It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace ­ but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

If this is lost on you, then read no further, for you have either embraced the tyrant with a grasp numb to the stinging pain of his hatred, or you choose not to care what bleak future awaits your grandchildren’s grandchildren. What you ignore at your peril is nothing less than the usurpation of at least two of the ten fundamental tenets of our society: the First and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution.

There can be no doubt in any right-thinking mind that the current administration seeks to remove from democracy’s crown the shining jewels of Freedom of the Press and the rights of state governments to protect their voters’ privacy from federal confiscation. If we needed more proof of the former, it was handed to us in a GIF via Twitter on a weekend morning, and as for the latter, one need only to listen to the outcry of more than forty state attorney’s general pushing back against the administration’s blatant attempt to acquire voter databases based on a widely discredited claim that more than three million votes cast in the 2016 election were fraudulent.

Instead of exulting in our hard-won Independence, and exhorting all Americans to redouble our efforts to eradicate the troublesome vestiges of racism and xenophobia, the current administration preaches from a poorly-written sermon filled with lies and scorn and shaming. Instead of encouraging us to stand on the shoulders of our Founders and look with clear vision beyond our horizons, this administration holds us down, pits us against each other, gaslights the poorest and most vulnerable of our fellow citizens, and, when called out by the news media for his baseless claims, the administration bangs the drum for their own sick Twitter version of violence against journalists. If this administration could, it would dissolve the First Amendment overnight.

As for the administration’s attempts to claim their right to force states to give up their voting data, the White House seems Hell-bent to dismantle the underpinning language of the Tenth Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

It is my hope that the administration will be soundly rebuffed and ultimately defeated in this most unwise attempt to extract private information about one of the most sacred aspects of our democracy—an individual’s right to vote unfettered by government prying. But the attempt alone—like the administration’s disquieting and continuing attack on media freedom—is quite unnerving, and sets off yet more alarm bells about this administration’s disregard for all things Constitutional. And what a shame to feel that way today as we celebrate the very document that started us along our path.