Alan Zendell, July 5, 2021
For me, something about the Fourth of July was off this year. I felt like the country was desperate to celebrate something, but not sure what it was. The legacy of the last five years has changed us. We knew the post-COVID “new normal” would be different, but yesterday was a not too subtle reminder of how different it might look.
Americans are desperate for something to celebrate, to feel like life is normal again. It wasn’t long ago that the sight of lawns festooned with American flags on the Fourth was a source of pride. I’ve always been embarrassingly patriotic, and all those flags were inspirational. But not so much this year.
The sharp divisions in our country, symbolized in part by the fight over confederate flags and monuments made the sight of all those stars and stripes feel like a political statement, and there seemed to be far fewer of them than in previous years. I attribute that entirely to Donald Trump’s MAGA bullshit. He single-handedly made patriotism synonymous with right-wing, gun-toting extremists, whose version of patriotism was storming the Capitol in insurrection.
The media and sponsors like Macy*s did their best. Like action filmmakers using computer imagery to enhance the performances of mere humans, they put on spectacular displays of fireworks and entertainment all over the country. It looked great, and our television hosts did everything they could to make it festive. But as I watched the spectacular pyrotechnics from New York and Washington, I couldn’t help feeling that there were millions of angry people who saw only socialist-leaning blue states putting on a Hollywood-style show.
I had the surreal feeling that I was living in two different worlds. While Washington celebrated all day long – the Nationals and Dodgers played at 11:00 am to begin a capital-wide party that lasted twelve hours – its neighbor forty miles to the northeast felt like a tomb. Baltimore, which also usually puts on a spectacular event that mimics the British bombardment of the city in 1812, canceled its celebration this year because of lingering fears of COVID and a depleted treasury without a deep pocket sponsor.
I dined at one of the best restaurants in the city amid what should have been teeming crowds. Instead of crowds, there were mostly empty streets and businesses that depend on those crowds struggling to survive. That particular tale of two cities was downright creepy, and a far more accurate portrait of America.
The Fourth brought a heartfelt warning from Dr. Anthony Fauci that we’re not out of the COVID woods yet. It was a specific reminder of 600,000 lives lost, most of which could have been averted if Trump hadn’t politicized the pandemic. It was also a stark warning that the 150 million Americans who are not yet vaccinated are very much at risk from the “delta” variant of the virus, which is far more contagious and likely deadlier than the strains we dealt with in 2020. It’s simply insane that the decision to accept a life-saving vaccine has also become a red state-blue state issue, instead of a sign of red, white, and blue solidarity. While Trump wants to claim credit for the incredible accomplishments of medical researchers who developed the vaccines, the refusal to take them which is very much a red state phenomenon is another part of his horrific legacy. Recognizing that made the noise and flashing lights of celebration seem hollow.
“America the Beautiful” means a lot to me. That’s why I purchased it as a domain name and used it to try defend America against Trumpism. When a military choir sang the song during New York’s fireworks last night, I listened to the words for the millionth time, especially, “God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.” A voice inside me responded, “Not this year.” Mass shootings, thousands dead from gun violence, continued police brutality against minorities, closing our doors to refugees, right-wing militias, QAnon, Antifa, and red states attempting to curtail their citizens’ right to vote don’t sound much like brotherhood to me. So I have to ask, exactly what were we celebrating on July 4, 2021? Surely not the 245th anniversary of the codification of American values.
If that sounds too cynical and pessimistic, I apologize. I didn’t mean to rain on your parade, but reality is what it is, and burying our heads in the sand always makes things worse. I’m glad many Americans had a chance to celebrate and feel normal for a few hours, but we have a lot of work to do in this country if America the Beautiful is to be preserved. In Joe Biden, we have a president who cares, but he can’t do it alone.