Make America Great Again?
This week we celebrate July 4th with rounds of festivities marking our nation’s 242 years of independence. Scenes of hyper-patriotism will be on display, too!
People will be singing the “Star Spangled Banner,” reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, or reenacting the Continental Congress of 1776. Some will simply watch reproductions of the “rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air.” All of this and more will be done on a grander and more highly commercialized scale to show ourselves, and the world, our mettle to “Make America Great Again.”
As a consequence, America’s need to showcase her natives spirit of patriotism comes at the expense of fundamental freedoms and protections. Those protections are denied to various disenfranchised, vulnerable, and historically marginalized populations in the country.
Here are some examples:
- Trump’s indefensible immigration policy of criminally punishing undocumented immigrants crossing the border from Mexico into the U.S. highlights how Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy means zero humanity.
- Separating children from their families, even a child while being breastfed.
- And now locking up families, together, indefinitely, in detention centers.
- Or the litmus test of American patriotism in sports these days is whether or not you stand for the national anthem. Somehow ignoring that the protest started as a statement against police brutality and systemic racism. However, since 9/11 the militarization of our sports culture has created a sports-military complex. Some white fans see this not only entertainment, but they come to display fidelity to police and the military, too.
Here are more examples. Donald Trump now has an opening to appoint a pro-life Supreme Court justice to the bench in the hope of overturning “Roe v. Wade.” Women’s reproductive justice issues will no longer be of serious consideration. This will impact predominately poor, disabled and women of color.
Here is another: An erosion of LGBT civil rights under the guise of religious liberty. A new Trump Supreme Court justice will likely go after “Obergefell v. Hodges,” returning same-sex marriage legal status to the states.
Our democracy hangs in the balance
While Trump bloviates his isolationist rhetoric to “Make America Great Again,” our democracy hangs in the balance. It reveals both its hypocrisy and its inhumanity. However, this is not the first time America’s Independence Day celebration that didn’t include all its citizens.
I am reminded of the African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ (1818-1895) historic speech, “What, to the slave, is the Fourth of July?” In it, he stated to a country in the throes of slavery, “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence . . . I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us . . . This Fourth of July is yours, not mine.”
As a lesbian American, one of our most significant moments of patriotism in this last century was the Stonewall Riot of June 27-29, 1969. And, as an African American, I am proud to live up to what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his Montgomery Bus Boycott speech. On December 5, 1955 he said, “The great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right.”
When patriotism is narrowly defined, as it is today, it can only be accepted and exhibited within the constraints of its own intolerance, and narrow worldview, like Trump’s travel ban (a.ka. Muslim Ban), upheld last week by SCOTUS in a 5-4 decision.
Evangelical patriotism is suffused with conservative or fundamentalist tenets of Christianity. It waves the flag of “God, Guns, and Glory.” That is sadly shaping today’s American landscape. Perhaps that’s why when America’s school-age children ask for gun reform at the “March for Our Lives” rally held in the nation’s capitol. Our government is willing to spend more money arming teachers with guns than supplying them with textbooks and computers.
Fear and hatred of the “other” is un-American
Since September 11, 2001 America has changed radically. America’s acceptance of racially and religiously profiling Muslims, or those who look like or who worship like Muslims, is all done in the name of patriotism. But it is really fear and hatred of the “other” and is un-American.
And this ugliness has imploded on us.
We have become a country where partisan politics rule the day. We can no longer agree to disagree, and shouting matches laced with expletives has taken the place of civil discourse.
One of our most famous American Revolution heroes is Patrick Henry. His famous final words, “Give me liberty or give me death,” in his speech on March 23, 1775, explained how he viewed himself as the “other.” And yet he maintained the core value of being an American patriot.
“No man thinks more highly than I do of patriotism . . . but different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs.”
With so many Americans, this 4th of July is feeling the effects of a polarized country. I ask, . . . this Independence Day celebration is for whom?
Rev. Irene Monroe can be reached via Twitter at: twitter.com/revimonroe