Today we celebrate our 242nd Independence Day — originally a celebration of no longer having a king, of gaining liberty from tyranny.
This Fourth of July, I urge us all to pause and ponder where our nation stands today with respect to that liberty, and what course we are charting for our children.
Our unlikely republic survived its first test in its infancy, when George Washington — who could easily have made himself a dictator — eschewed lifetime rule to defend the checks and balances in our government.
Those restrictions on power have protected us from ourselves and from the ambitions of our leaders for the last 24 decades. But, the checks and balances hold sway only as long as we truly desire to be free.
Our natural aversion to autocratic rule has led us since the Revolution to value the Constitution more than those elected to temporarily fill government offices, and to see elected officials more as servants than as rulers.
We have had presidents who, by their circumstances and the strength of their personas, have been mythologized into a kind of rose-tinted idealism. Washington, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Kennedy, Reagan and Obama come to mind.
None of those men were saints. Far from it. And, we’ve overlooked much to keep them on their pedestals in the mythology we call American history. But, up until now we’ve stopped short of the kind of blind obeisance characteristic of loyal subjects in a totalitarian state.
That is a core tenet of what it means to be American, and it has nothing to do with party affiliation. Now, I fear a great many of our countrymen have abandoned that principle.
When candidate Donald Trump said he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters,” he was bragging about his followers’ impervious adoration of him. For Americans sensible to our history and committed to avoiding a return to autocracy, it was and should have been an alarming statement.
But, sadly, his statement has proven true. His supporters have gifted the 45th president a cloak of infallibility that is utterly divorced from reality. A man who bribes a porn star, makes continued attacks on the judiciary, the FBI and the Justice Department as a whole, who attacks the free press, who lies incessantly, and who has been complicit — by omission or commission — in Russia’s interference with the last election: this is the man who can do no wrong in the eyes of his followers.
If Trump the candidate could shoot someone and not lose votes, it seems Trump the president can kill the republic itself and raise nary an eyebrow among his base.
All of this could be dismissed as partisan deference if it weren’t for how many of his followers have attempted to deify Trump.
Some fundamentalists claim the election was divinely ordained, while those further down the rabbit hole of bad theology claim Donald Trump was hand-picked by God to bring an end to the world and usher in the New Jerusalem. At Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University they’re making a film based on this notion. The name? “The Trump Prophecy.”
Believing a leader is divinely ordained — making their actions tantamount to the will of God — is the hallmark of monarchies in years past, and dictatorships today. It is antithetical to our founding principles, and is a betrayal of every patriot who has since fought and died under the belief that death is preferable to tyranny.
It seems we’ve tired of the responsibilities of representative government, and desire nothing more than to return to the lazy servitude of monarchy. Given the way our president fawns after Putin and Kim Jong-un — and more importantly, the manner in which they rule — it’s evident he shares that desire.
These are daunting times for our republic. In a recent Rasmussen Reports poll, 31 percent of likely voters said it’s likely the United States will experience a second civil war in the next five years.
I pray that is not the case, and that Americans will not once again prove correct Thomas Jefferson’s prediction that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
We all have a duty to prevent such folly. We prevent it by valuing the Constitution above any candidate or politician. By valuing our founding principles more than party. By embracing fact over rhetoric. By seeing value in all human beings that transcends party, race and legal status. By affirming that no one, regardless of party or status, is above the rule of law.
If we can’t or won’t embrace those principles, then all we celebrate on the Fourth of July already is lost. If we don’t fight for the true meaning of this day, then all our red, white and blue jubilation signifies nothing more, and nothing less, than the funeral pall of our republic.