Today marks Independence Day in the United States, and this day I am conflicted. Ever since I embraced Christianity patriotic holidays have never been huge for me, I’m not much for the practice of civil religion 1. This year, however, I find the very notion of this day depressing.
America is an ideal to which we, as a people, have never lived up. The thought of the founders was that the virtues of a free republic were going to spread over the globe and transform the world. Yet even then the scourge of slavery, duplicitous treatment of Native Americans, fear of Roman Catholics, and the thought that women didn’t have the emotional or intellectual capacities to handle voting tainted that ideal.
America has tried to address its own failure to live up to its ideals, but never without struggle. A bloody civil war was needed to end slavery, and even then 100 years of Jim Crow continued to force African Americans into sanctioned second class status. Today, the systemic legacy of those institutions continue to force second-class status on too many of our fellow citizens. Native Americans have some concessions of sovereignty from the United States government but poverty, alcoholism, and an increased loss of heritage continues to plague these native peoples. Women fought long and hard to be given the right to vote, but still today are paid less than men for the same work for… reasons.
Over the years we’ve thought up new ways to fail our ideals as well. The Irish weren’t welcome, Jews were a danger to our sensibilities, Italians were thugs, muslims wanted to get rid of constitutional law. Each of these groups, and so many more, has struggled to find a place in this country, and not without suffering. At our best America is a melting pot, the essence of new cultures infuses the whole and make it something better. At our worst, we are a mixed salad, where people just pick and choose the parts we like and toss the rest away.
Right now we’re tossing away immigrants. I know many people who claim they only want people to “follow the law,” but the rhetoric of our current administration has emboldened those who assume, until proven otherwise, every latino-looking person is an undocumented immigrant sucking the welfare system dry. It doesn’t matter that neither of these assumptions are true, not every Spanish or Portuguese speaking person is an undocumented immigrant and those who are cannot receive welfare, latino people have become the bits of the salad a sizable chunk of Americans believe can be tossed out 2.
The zero-tolerance policy of Attorney General Jeff Sessions led to the separation of thousands of children from their parents, even those who would have had a legitimate case for asylum before AG Sessions changed the rules. And the number of Christians who think these separations were a good thing make me nauseous.
The administration has cozied up to dictators, while alienating our allies 3. And the free press, the very institution which is supposed to be a check on the institutions of power, has been called an “enemy of the people” by the President of the United States. A statement which has chilling undertones throughout history.
And when I think all this is seen by many as “making America great again,” I can only weep. Today is the celebration of American Independence and the beginning of the American Ideal. We’ve struggled to live up to it over the years, and failed great deal, but this is the first time in my lifetime we seem to have decided the ideal itself might be a bad thing. Today, for me, is a day of somber reflection on what this whole thing is supposed to mean.