Independence Day arrives at a time when the United States is roiled by hearings into the Jan. 6 insurgency, awash in turmoil over high court rulings on abortion and guns, and struggling to maintain the common bonds that hold the country together.
Many people, however, see reason to rejoice: The pandemic is still waning, and despite its flaws, America’s democracy is still alive and well.
“I think many of us are feeling conflicted about celebrating the Fourth of July right now,” obstacle race champion and attorney Amelia Boone tweeted as the week came to an end and the long holiday weekend began.
Patriotism, in her opinion, is also about fighting for change, she said, adding, “I’m not giving up on the US.” That sentiment is no doubt shared by millions of people who will mark the nation’s 246th birthday and anniversary of independence from English rule on Monday.
It’s a day for taking the day off from work, going to parades, eating hot dogs and hamburgers at backyard barbecues, and gathering under a canopy of stars and exploding fireworks — in many cases, for the first time in three years, thanks to easing coronavirus precautions.
To the delight of residents like Steven Williams, Baltimore is resuming its Independence Day celebrations after a two-year hiatus.
“I used to go up there every year.” Then it came to a halt,” Williams told WBAL-TV. “I hadn’t seen them in a few years.”
Colorful displays of all sizes will illuminate the night sky in cities ranging from New York to Seattle to Chicago to Dallas. Others, however, will avoid them, particularly in drought-stricken and wildfire-prone areas of the West.
Phoenix is also without fireworks, this time due to supply-chain issues rather than pandemic or fire concerns.
Some newer residents will take oaths of citizenship in emotional ceremonies across the country, allowing them to vote for the first time in the upcoming midterm elections.
To be sure, we live in perilous times: A recession looms, and the national psyche is still raw from recent mass shootings at a Texas elementary school and a New York supermarket.
Recent Supreme Court decisions overturning the constitutional right to abortion and striking down a New York law limiting who can carry a gun in public have also exposed sharp social and political divisions.
However, for many, July 4 is also a time to put aside political differences and celebrate unity, reflecting on the revolution that gave birth to history’s longest-lasting democracy.
“There’s always something to divide or unite us,” said Eli Merritt, a political historian at Vanderbilt University whose upcoming book traces the tumultuous founding of the United States in 1776.
However, he sees the Jan. 6 hearings into last year’s storming of the U.S. Capitol as cause for optimism, an opportunity to rally behind democratic institutions. Despite the fact that not all Americans or their elected representatives agree with the committee’s work, Merritt is encouraged by the fact that it is at least somewhat bipartisan, with some Republicans participating.
“Moral courage as a source of hope for Americans,” he said, “the willingness to stand up for what is right and true in the face of negative consequences to oneself.” That is a necessary component of constitutional democracy.”