Does the 4th Mean Party Time, or Time for an Intervention?

In ordinary times, the Fourth of July is my favorite holiday.

Free from religious dogma and familial obligations, America’s birthday usually means sunshine, a parade, baseball, a barbecue, maybe the beach, and finally, pyrotechnics.

Somewhere in the mix, I try to read the Declaration of Independence aloud if possible, or listen as someone else reads it.

And I’ll always say my own silent prayer of thanks that I was born here and nowhere else.

These are not ordinary times.

This year, the Fourth of July seems less like party time and more like time for an intervention.

America’s birthday comes while everyone is mad at our country.

I don’t mean mullahs somewhere over there, or Putin, or people like that. We don’t need foreigners hating on us; we’re mad enough at ourselves.

The left believes America has followed Donald Trump off a cliff of craziness antithetical to democracy and the rule of law, while the right believes the left (with their media co-conspirators) has subverted America’s core values to destroy us from within.

It’s hard to celebrate a birthday when you’re mad at the guest of honor.

These past few weeks have been, to say the least, ugly. Between mass shootings, Supreme Court rulings, seriously disturbing Jan. 6 testimony, a truckload of dead migrants and continued out-of-control inflation with no end in sight, the Fourth of July has arrived not as a respite from our troubles but as a begrudged obligation. With gas at seven bucks a gallon and the air grid bordering on chaos, running away isn’t even an option. Yet, if we have any hope of pushing through this ugly epoch, we’re going to have to find some common ground, right?

For most of our history, the Fourth of July and the American flag were givens, two symbols everyone could rally around. On the Fourth, these two symbols go together like hotdogs and mustard.

Ol’ John Adams famously said, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable epocha, in the History of America … it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival … It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parades from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”

Of course, he got the date wrong, July 2nd, rather than July 4th, because he wrote this in his diary after the Continental Congress voted to declare our independence, two days before the Declaration was published. Still, with the exception of the rebellious states during the Civil War, the Fourth has been celebrated as a secular holy day, with left and right agreeing for that one day to put aside what divides us to focus instead on all that unites us.

Today, we don’t even agree on the fireworks: they’re too dangerous in a drought and too upsetting for Snowball and Mr. Whiskers.

For many millions, the American flag is now seen as a partisan symbol, specifically a conservative/Republican expression of patriotism they don’t share. A friend recently told me, “I don’t fly the flag because I don’t want people to think I voted for Trump.”

The American flag flies at our house every day. This makes us unique on our block, and possibly suspicious to our neighbors and UPS drivers. When I installed our flagpole 20-plus years ago, it never occurred to me that flying our nation’s flag would be controversial — maybe in Tehran, but not in the west San Fernando Valley — but today it is.

How did this happen?

In the turbulent ‘60s, the right weaponized patriotism, declaring, “These colors don’t run!.” “America, love it or leave it” and “My country right or wrong.” Rather than fight for their rightful piece of American heritage, many on the left abandoned the flag and the Fourth and other traditional symbols of national identity thereby making them partisan by default.

If the Stars and Stripes are to remain the symbol of “We the People,” We the People have to embrace it, not just some of the people.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Independence Day about natural rights, not privileges bestowed by politicians

Photo courtesy Fabi Fliervoet, flickr

Photo courtesy Fabi Fliervoet, flickr

On July Fourth, Americans celebrate the ideals of the Declaration of Independence — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But these three principles aside, we often forget the underlying, truly radical ideas the Declaration is built upon.

The Fourth of July isn’t just about feel-good words and ideas that politicians invoke to gain the “consent of the governed.” Independence Day is about the freedom and duty of citizens to assert our natural rights — rights that are ours because we are human beings, not privileges bestowed upon us by the authorities.

It’s easy to forget that radical notion, that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The Declaration also warned that “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government.”

The Declaration was a call to revolution against a regime that repeatedly violated these core rights. Modern politicians and, perhaps, even most Americans are confused about the concept of rights. They believe that “positive” rights — such as the “right” to health care or education — are of the same kind as those “negative” rights — essentially, the right to be left alone — defended by the American founders.

For instance, the right to free speech is the classic negative right that the founders sought to uphold. We, as Americans, have a right to air our grievances and criticize our government. While we can huff and puff endlessly about unchecked government power, not unless we air our grievances in the public sphere can we expect any satisfactory resolution or redress. We fail as citizens when we passively allow government to abridge our rights, restrict our freedom or inhibit our pursuit of happiness.

In our euphoric celebrations, we may forget that the Fourth isn’t about guaranteeing our happiness. The government’s purpose, rather, is to ensure that we have the opportunity and ability to pursue whatever form of happiness we choose, as long as we do not violate another citizen’s rights.

Nor is the Fourth about assuring equality. To the founders, freedom — not equality — was the crux of independence. The idea of equality was peripheral and only received a six-word blurb in the Declaration: “that all men are created equal.” By equal, the founders meant that we are equal before the law, not equal in our talents and material blessings.

Nineteenth-century French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville posed freedom and equality in opposition to one another, predicting that Americans’ love for equality would ultimately undermine and eclipse their freedom. That, unfortunately, was among Tocqueville’s many prescient observations.

Similarly, the Fourth isn’t about the triumph of democracy. To the founders, democratic government could be just as damaging as monarchies to individual rights. Just because we elect our leaders doesn’t make them less likely to trample on our natural rights. Freedom is best protected through limits on governments, the rule of law and the separation of powers.

Ponder that as the barbecues blaze, and the fireworks fill the air.

This editorial originally appeared in the Orange County Register on July 4, 2008.