Independence Day 2018

Independence Day 2018

As holidays go, Independence Day is my favorite of the secular American celebrations. Other holidays, equally important in their own ways, like Veterans Day and Memorial Day, are patriotic derivatives: without a nation, we wouldn’t have the heroes to honor. Without that Declaration on July 4, 1776, we wouldn’t have a nation. Situated perfectly in the middle of the year, bookending Yuletides, we as a people are reminded that, like long summer days, the sun doesn’t want to set on our celebration of independence. America is not merely a, “ City on a hill,” but, as Ronald Reagan reminded us, “shining” so: a beacon of hope to the world.

Our celebration on July fourth is not about pride, it’s about independence.

America started with a bold assertion in the Age of Reason, that, “…in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…” and that, self-evidently, we are all, “created equal.” Joined in our collected independence, we look skyward with neighbors, making our own firelight when necessary—even as night falls—binding us through revelry into the dawn’s early breaking. Our independence, in 2018 as much as in 1776, is as interwoven with optimism as red with white and blue. Each Fourth of July reminds us that the spirit of independence, though born of eighteenth-century Enlightenment, lives on today. Imperfect executions of timeless liberal ideals are venerated in the institutions of Federalism and rule-of-law, codified and ensured by the Constitution. These institutions daily enliven individual and externalized tensions: we are independent together.

Besides sparklers and Roman candles, how do we honor our core independence, wrought and honed in the founding Declaration? How do we, in the present, dissolve outdated political connections and affirm equality?

We must fight assaults upon our independence with the ferocity of musket-armed minutemen. 

The Democratic and Republican Parties stand as a joint veneer before our venerable (and, yes, sometimes bloated) American institutions. Parties fight for allegiances. They mean to rob us of our independence and lull us into complacency. We are wont to take the easy route: to take well trod paths: to deny the bravery lived by Dawes-Revere and heartened by Frost: to hide our independence in the safety of numbers—in cults of personality.

If Trump has taught us anything—for all the divisive bluster, and at the same time thanks to it—we are enjoined to constantly reassert independence. Trump—however much we may dislike his version of it— has embodied an independent spirit. After coopting the Republican Party, he’s unapologetically undermined basic conservative ideals like small government, human dignity, and fiscal responsibility. His abandonment of ideals in exchange for pragmatism (what he calls, “winning”) should serve as an example (the independence, not the megalomania) for  us to do the same: an opportunity to question orthodoxy: an opportunity to think independently again.

We are challenged, in this age of Trump, to assert our independence of thought. Whether we call it bipartisanship, compromise, or Radical Centrism, we are at a historical juncture where the last four-score years of factional alliances stand ready for reappraisal. Assertions of our independence can be as small and targeted as questioning images put forth by the media, engaging in rational discourse that cuts through the narratives promulgated by partisans, or simply voting our independent consciences instead of our party lines.  Democrats no longer hold a monopoly on LGBTQ and climate change.  Republicans no longer hold a monopoly on small government and family values. Both seem to have jettisoned free speech and free press. Regardless of our faith-centers, we can engage in just-heresies against established factions. We are ripe, as Americans, for acts of independent bravery: what JFK called “Profiles in Courage,” and what contemporary historian John Meacham calls, “The Battle for our Better Angels.”  

And yet, we sacrifice our independence in exchange for how we personally rank America’s institutions which are in constant, beautiful tension. We are granted the freedom to think independently as we measure such natural tensions: nation, state, religion, media, speech, POTUS, SCOTUS, Congress, Armed Forces, labor—expected and accounted for constitutionally—that have provided guide rails for our nation. But even independence has its limits lest it devolve into anarchy.  After a decade of loose confederacy, the states united under the Constitution. After five years of Civil War, America reconstructed. After two years of Trump, we must begin reorganizing our allegiances. This doesn’t mean turning our back on independence, but internalizing it and letting it drive us, optimistically forward to reclaim our Shining City on a Hill.  

As we say we can see—together—this Independence Day, by the dawn’s earliest light, from the twilight’s last gleaming, and o’er ramparts remembered, let’s also look inward to the truths we carry within our own independent souls. Let’s shine outward; let’s serve as beacons of hope for our neighbors—friends and enemies alike—in daily declarations of our cherished, Creator-ordained, collected independence.

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