Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Independence Day 2019

I'm afraid this is not a happy Independence Day. As several people have pointed out, we have tanks in DC and concentration camps on the nation's Southern border, both at the insistence of Donald Trump. The cruelty of the camps is the point; it's a feature, not a bug.

Most years for Independence Day, I post some videos, but this year, I thought I'd link a great poem I just discovered, "A New National Anthem," by Ada Limón. Follow the link for the full poem, but this may be my favorite section:

And what of the stanzas
we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge
could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps
the truth is that every song of this country
has an unsung third stanza, something brutal
snaking underneath us as we blindly sing
the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands
hoping our team wins.

It's a great piece and timely. Check out the rest.

For me, one of the best and most hopeful American traditions is the conscientious critique: MLK, Pete Seeger, Dorothea Dix, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, Frances Perkins, and countless more. (Add Ada Limón to the list.) There's always room for improvement; we can treat each other more kindly and do better as a nation.

That idea dovetails with a 2006 piece by E.J. Dionne I've featured before, "A Dissident's Holiday." My favorite bit:

...The true genius of America has always been its capacity for self-correction. I'd assert that this is a better argument for patriotism than any effort to pretend that the Almighty has marked us as the world's first flawless nation.

One need only point to the uses that Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. made of the core ideas of the Declaration of Independence against slavery and racial injustice to show how the intellectual and moral traditions of the United States operate in favor of continuous reform.

There is, moreover, a distinguished national tradition in which dissident voices identify with the revolutionary aspirations of the republic's founders.

Dionne's views stand in sharp contrast with Trump's, who views Independence Day as an opportunity to play with tanks in the style of a Soviet May Day parade and invite adulation of himself. Donald Trump, like many other American conservatives, is an authoritarian. And he and his most ardent followers are cruel, gleeful bullies.

The conditions in the camps are horrible by design, because of bigotry and to maximize profits. At least the camps' grotesque reality is being increasing exposed, by visiting Democratic members of Congress, pediatricians and reporters, despite efforts to prevent the public from knowing what's really going on. We're seeing the ugliest attitudes in America, in a continuing dark tradition. But we're also seeing conscientious resistance and a push for reform. That impulse is always worth supporting and celebrating.