On Thursday, President Donald Trump will deliver a Fourth of July address at the Lincoln Memorial. Critics say the event, which is expected to include tanks, a flyover of military jets and Air Force One, will politicize a nonpartisan celebration.
Americans already act like subjects
By James Bovard
President Donald Trump’s plan to give an Independence Day televised address from the Lincoln Memorial has outraged many pundits and plenty of normal Americans, too. There has rarely been a shortage of political buncombe on July Fourth but Trump could, as usual, break all records.
For Trump’s extravaganza, the Pentagon is bringing out of mothballs some World War II-era Sherman tanks. Though the gun turrets look impressive, Allied soldiers nicknamed Sherman tanks “Ronsons” because they were death traps that "light first every time” in clashes with better built German tanks. But that painful fact, like many others, will be swept under the rug.
The Washington Post condemned Trump’s “gaudy display of military hardware that is more in keeping with a banana republic than the world’s oldest democracy.” Regrettably, the Post’s indignation over a few tanks does not extend to the fact that American troops are now fighting in 14 foreign nations. But the real problem is not the military relics; it's exalting government power and politicians on a day meant to celebrate individual liberty. The Fourth of July in Washington has been going downhill ever since 9/11.
In his first draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson scratched out the word “subjects” and replaced it with “citizens.” But on Independence Day 2003, I wondered whether that had been an editing error. I saw long lines of people awaiting outside government checkpoints around the National Mall, kowtowing for permission to celebrate independence according to the latest edicts. Police and security agents continue to have a far heavier presence in Washington and many other places than in earlier times. Three years ago, police urged people heading for the National Mall on July Fourth to sign up for a free emergency text alert system called NIXLE. (Subtext: “All your email addresses belong to us!”)
How many Americans recall that the Fourth of July originally consecrated independence achieved thanks to resistance to a corrupt, oppressive regime? Facebook, that bellwether of cluelessness, last year censored a Texas newspaper’s reposting of a portion of the Declaration of Independence because it went against its standards on hate speech.
The Founding Fathers carved the First Amendment to ensure freedom of the press after the crown’s appointees muzzled criticism of King George’s regime. The Second Amendment, recognizing the right to keep and bear arms, was spurred by British troops seeking to seize firearms at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches because British agents with general warrants would ransack any colonist’s house. The Fifth Amendment’s eminent domain provision was written after British agents claimed a right to seize without compensation any pine tree in New England for British navy ship masts.
Nevertheless, the battles our forefathers fought to secure our rights have long since been forgotten amidst a deluge of abuses at the federal, state and local government level. There are good reasons why less than 20% of Americans trust the federal government nowadays.
The hubbub around Trump’s speech should spur Americans to take their Fourth of July to higher ground. What matters is not what politicians say on any given day but the principles and values that Americans choose to live by. Regardless of how often government agents violate the Constitution, citizens retain all the rights for which our forefathers fought.
Federal Judge Learned Hand warned in 1944: “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it.”
On this Fourth of July, Americans should nourish that spirit of liberty by taking a long walk, drinking a good beer, or maybe simply giving a hearty verbal thrashing to the politician of your choice.
What others are saying
Renée Graham, The Boston Globe: "It’s President Donald Trump throwing his own party, with fighter jets roaring overhead. With his love of military symbolism, it’s always worth restating that Trump had no similar affection for actually being in the military. When his country called him to service in the Vietnam War era, he did what he has continued to do as president — he turned his back. Trump was not a conscientious objector, but a rich man’s boy accustomed to having Daddy’s money as a cushion for life’s hard landings."
Chris Core, WTOP radio, "Core Values with Chris Core": “There are certainly a lot of things to complain about President Trump. But his idea of shaking up the Fourth of July celebration is not one of them. He wants to speak on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Fine — he’s our president, like him or not. He apparently would like Air Force One to fly over the mall. Sounds like fun. The fireworks will be shot off from West Potomac Park instead of the Mall, might be a really pretty change. And frankly, the Fourth of July celebration has been pretty much the same year after year after year. This will bring some new life to it."
Michelle Cottle, The New York Times: "For decades, Washington’s Fourth of July tribute has aimed to play down or paper over political divisions and celebrate America — not any particular leader or party. Recognizing their power to distract, not to mention incite, presidents have opted to absent themselves from the events. ... This is far from the most significant political norm that Trump has shattered in the course of his presidency. It is depressing nonetheless. The greatness of America does not reside with its president, but with its people. It is this spirit that the annual celebration in the nation’s capital has endeavored to preserve. Until now."
What our readers are saying
We spend millions on military flyovers at sporting events each year. We can certainly send some tanks and planes for our nation's birthday in our own capital. We should not be embarrassed; we should be very proud!
— Bob Zimmerman
How pathologically insecure does one have to be to co-opt our nation's most patriotic holiday and conflate it with self-promotion?
— Tim Donovan
He's the president of the United States. Who better to commemorate the occasion? This has nothing to do with the campaign.
— James Daniel Rogers
Now being patriotic and proud of your country is a bad thing for people.
— Tom Finn
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fourth of July should celebrate liberty, not politicians like Trump: Today's talker