Looking at the Fourth of July in Context of Our History and Our Current Political Climate
by Christian Decker
Every 4th of July it’s one of my family traditions to watch the T.V. musical 1776. The musical details the meetings of the First Continental Congress as they grapple with the question of whether to declare independence from the English Empire. With a rich score and fantastic acting performances, it makes for a charming retelling of how our country came to give the middle finger to the biggest, baddest empire of the era.
As a student of history, you learn a lot about how not everything is as black and white as the movies, and even some of the history books make it out to be. The American experiment may have been one of the models for independence around the world, but it came at a great and bloody cost, one that began and followed with tragedies and atrocities.
As you learn more, sometimes it becomes increasingly harder to be “proud to be an American” (man that song is insufferable). Slavery was allowed to flourish in this country well after our war for independence, not to mention the convict leasing that followed after slavery was outlawed, and segregation, obvious or otherwise, that was allowed to occur as a result of shameful Supreme Court decisions. Our government destabilized democratically elected regimes in South America, and supported coups that placed dictators in power, as well as helped to cause the mess of war and politics that is the Middle East. We committed mass genocide of Native Americans, culminating during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, and forced the survivors onto reservations. Not to mention Japanese interment during World War II.
Last year at around this time I published an article detailing the horror at our Southern border and the separation of families of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers that has increased over the past years. It’s frankly depressing to know that things have gotten worse over the recent months. Under the Trump administration, we have seen the formation of American concentration camps, housing scared children who have been removed from their families, given horrific food, refused soap, toothpaste, and other basic necessities and housed in cramped and crowed buildings. According to several news sources, if these children were prisoners of war, the United States would be committing war crimes under the Geneva Convention.
To see religious conservatives and Evangelicals defend this administration and policies is especially offensive. It flouts Christian teaching of helping the least of our fellow people and upholds racism, bigotry, and degradation of the basic rights of human beings.
Of course, it is depressing to look at all these injustices and still somehow want to celebrate independence. However, I recently started to look at some of the good moments of our history that really do define what our American values should be. As part of a research assistant job for the political science department, I discovered Paul Butler, who was chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the Eisenhower years. Butler essentially told the Southern conservative democrats that they could go fuck themselves if they refused to support the democrat’s civil rights platform, and never backed down when many called for his removal as chairman. His leadership eventually led to the election of President John F. Kennedy.
I admire the courageousness of the men and women who went to war to stand up against fascism during World War II, and those today who still fight the good fight against those who dare to support the bigotry that is Nazism. There are those today who lead the charge against racial issues that still plague our country, mass incarceration, impartiality in our judicial system, and police brutality. And I smile watching my friends, who can now walk free in the Pride parades throughout the country, celebrating their identity.
My lineage was paved by immigrants, those who came with almost nothing in order to make a better life for themselves and fleeing oppressive regimes. Though it still has many problems, America is place that was able the transform these peoples lives and give them a chance to really live and to thrive. This is the America that I choose to celebrate. Not the America that Trump and many other people want to make America, and not the America that stands for oppression and destabilization. My America defends the weak, welcomes the weary, and stands for justice. Though we may have a long way to go, these are the American values that I choose to live by.
While Thomas Jefferson did not believe these words about all Americans, I always tend to tear up a little when I read them, because they define what American should be. They are found on the document that started our nation, The Declaration of Independence. It reads: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”