Independence Day should be the most American of our holidays, but for some people, that makes it a day to be denounced instead of celebrated.
There will be fewer celebrations this July 4 than in years past. Many cities and towns are canceling fireworks displays, either because of budget concerns or the increased risk of sparking wildfires. A survey by Visa released Sunday showed that 21 percent of Americans will not celebrate the Fourth this year because they can no longer afford to. For the millions of families of the unemployed, the holiday won’t be a day off, but just another day.
Others take a stand against the holiday on misguided principle. An essay in the leftist magazine The Progressive denounced the “mindless patriotic bubble bath” the holiday represents. It says patriotism is “highly toxic” and “when ingested, it corrodes the rational faculties.” Patriotism is “a war toy” used to justify conflict, “often after invoking God’s name, too.” American patriotism in particular has “gotten in the way of solving global warming” since Americans “believe we have the God-given right to use up all the resources we can.” The magazine suggests that Americans need to “get over patriotism” and “cure the American superiority complex.” It is a ringing call for the pursuit of unhappiness.
A survey by the National Retail Federation found that close to 68 percent of Americans said they would host or attend a barbecue, the highest percentage in the history of the study. But lest people enjoy themselves too much, The Washington Post ran a guilt-tripping article entitled “Why your hamburger hates America.” According to the Post, the humble burger is the product of incalculable sins: “big agriculture” driving out family farms, centralization in the meat-packing industry, unfair treatment of laborers harvesting tomatoes and onions, and Wal-Mart’s apparent domination of the hamburger-bun market. The piece repeated the well-debunked myth that lower-income people don’t have access to fresh vegetables like lettuce. The agitprop tried to ground itself with passing references to Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence and the 1862 Homestead Act, the point apparently being that you cannot be a real patriot unless you support every fashionably left-wing cause.
Such strident critics miss the point of the holiday. Independence Day is an annual ritual reconfirming the ideals of freedom on which the country was founded. As John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail at the time, the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence represents “the most memorable epoch in the history of America.” It ought to be “commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty” and “solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
By its nature, July 4 is idealistic and optimistic. It doesn’t commemorate the victorious end of the American independence movement but its risky beginning. It’s a day to revisit the nation’s founding, to re-energize and celebrate the civic myths that unify the Republic. It’s not the type of day that will appeal to cynical old leftists but is a vital aspect of the education of America’s children. The cookouts, the ball games, the “pomp and parade,” these are the products of the liberty claimed in 1776. They are the heritage bequeathed by the Founders, renewed and sustained with each passing generation. The act of celebrating the Fourth acknowledges the essence of what it means to be an American. Let the flame of freedom burn in every heart, and every grill.
James S. Robbins is senior editorial writer for foreign affairs at The Washington Times and author of the forthcoming, “Native Americans: Patriotism, Exceptionalism, and the New American Identity” (Encounter, August 2012).