Another Independence Day is upon us, and yet again the fireworks and celebrations are in the air. It also happens to be my twin daughters' birthday, so it is easy for me to focus on the personal meaning of this day and to forget about it being a national holiday.
Apart from the World Cup, I tend to absolutely detest nationalism. Is there anything more pathetic than thumping your chest about the country you happened to be born in? That feeling is exacerbated this week by news that the American flag is yet again being used as a weapon, this time by howling nativist mobs assailing unaccompanied immigrant children fleeing strife and poverty in Central America. We are the richest nation that has ever existed, but react to the desperation of others with hatred rather than empathy. That fact calls to mind the greatest July 4th speech ever given, Frederick Douglass' jeremiad "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" Here is a relevant passage, sadly still relevant in this day and age, even if chattel slavery no longer exists:
"What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour."
We congratulate ourselves on our freedom in a nation that incarcerates its own people at a higher rate than any other in the world. We celebrate our victory over a great empire in the 18th century when America today is the world's greatest empire, one that rains death from the sky on a regular basis without a declaration of war. We call ourselves a "nation of immigrants" while treating the most vulnerable of newcomers like beasts. I frankly don't see much to celebrate this July 4th.