Independence Day comes at a time when the United States is reeling from hearings on the January 6 insurrection, awash in turmoil over high court rulings on abortion and guns, and struggling to maintain the common bonds that they keep them together. Yet many also see cause for celebration: The pandemic continues to abate, and despite its failings, American democracy survives.
“I think a lot of us feel conflicted about celebrating the 4th of July right now,” attorney and champion steeplechase Amelia Boone tweeted as the week gave way to the long holiday weekend.
In his opinion, patriotism is also about fighting for change, he said, adding, “I’m not going to give up on America.” That sentiment is no doubt shared by millions of people who on Monday will celebrate the 246th anniversary of independence from British rule and the nation’s 246th anniversary.
It’s a day for skipping work, flocking to parades, devouring hot dogs and burgers at backyard barbecues, and gathering under a blanket of stars and exploding fireworks, in many cases for the first time in three years amid relaxation of precautions against coronavirus.
Baltimore, meanwhile, is resuming its Independence Day celebrations after a two-year hiatus, much to the delight of residents like Steven Williams.
“I used to be there every year. Then she stopped,” Williams told WBAL-TV. “I haven’t seen them in a couple of years.”
Colorful displays big and small will light up the night sky in cities from New York to Seattle, Chicago to Dallas. Others, however, particularly in drought-stricken and wildfire-prone western regions, will give them up. Phoenix is also running out of fireworks, not because of the pandemic or fire concerns, but because of supply chain issues.
In emotional ceremonies across the country, some newer residents will take the oath of citizenship, qualifying them to vote for the first time in the upcoming midterm elections.
These are undoubtedly precarious times: an economic downturn looms, and the national psyche is still raw from mass shootings like those seen recently at a Texas elementary school and a New York supermarket. Recent Supreme Court decisions that struck down the constitutional right to abortion and struck down a New York law that limited who can carry a gun in public have also laid bare deep social and political divisions. But for many, the 4th of July is also an opportunity to put aside political differences and celebrate unity, reflecting on the revolution that gave rise to the longest-running democracy in history.
Eli Merritt, a political historian at Vanderbilt University whose forthcoming book traces the tense founding of the United States in 1776, said “there is always something that divides us or unites us.” But he sees the January 6 hearings investigating the storming of the US Capitol last year as a reason for hope, an opportunity to rally behind democratic institutions. Although not all Americans or their elected representatives agree with the committee’s work, Merritt is encouraged that it is at least somewhat bipartisan with some Republicans participating.
“Moral courage as a place for Americans to place hope,” he said, “the willingness to stand up for what is right and true despite negative consequences to oneself. That is an essential glue of constitutional democracy.”