America was founded by rowdy folks who enjoyed nothing better than applying tar and feathers to British tax collectors. For a couple centuries, Independence Day was an occasion for raising a ruckus with firecrackers and plenty of other friendly detonations.
But in recent times, the Fourth of July has been downgraded to simply another opportunity for citizens to express gratitude to their political masters. We are still permitted to celebrate, but unfortunately, federal, state, and local governments routinely trample the rights that the Founding Fathers sought to make sacrosanct.
The Fourth of July in Washington has been going downhill ever since 9/11. In his first draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson scratched out the word “subjects” and replaced it with “citizens.” But on Independence Day 2003, I wondered whether that had been an editing error. I saw long lines of people awaiting outside government checkpoints around the National Mall, kowtowing for permission to celebrate independence according to the latest edicts. Police and security agents continue to have a far heavier presence in Washington and many other places than in earlier times. In 2015, police urged people heading for the National Mall on July Fourth to sign up for a free emergency text alert system called NIXLE. (Subtext: “All your email addresses belong to us!”)
How many Americans recall that the Fourth of July originally consecrated an independence achieved thanks to resistance to a corrupt, oppressive regime? In 2018, Facebook, auditioning for a Federal Censorship Medal of Honor, deleted a Texas newspaper’s reposting of a portion of the Declaration of Independence because it went against Facebook standards on hate speech. Facebook used the same standard to suppress photos of the Branch Davidian home in flames after the FBI tank assault.
In 2019, when President Donald Trump ordered the Pentagon to bring out of mothballs some World War II-era Sherman tanks, the media was indignant. The Washington Post condemned Trump’s “gaudy display of military hardware that is more in keeping with a banana republic than the world’s oldest democracy.” But the real problem was not the military relics. It was exalting government power and politicians on a day meant to celebrate individual liberty.
In 2020, politicians in most areas effectively canceled Independence Day. Governors and mayors had quickly imposed “stay at home” orders restricting 300 million people after the COVID pandemic erupted. Most of the media ignored the fact that Independence Day occurred under the most dictatorial restrictions of the modern era. Crowds were banned from watching fireworks that governments often chose not to ignite. The Maryland Office of Tourism offered residents consolation prizes—the opportunity to watch a “virtual pet parade” online or see a “virtual Independence Day Tour” of the National Museum of Health and Medicine.
Could Independence Day ever become more servile? “Hold my beer,” announced Team Biden.
In March 2021, President Joe Biden announced plans to convert the Fourth of July as Americans’ shrink-wrapped “Freedom Day.” In lieu of “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,” July 4 became a benchmark for presidential browbeating for Americans to get politically-approved injections. If people dutifully got vaccinated, Biden said, “There’s a good chance you, your families and friends, will be [permitted] to get together [in small groups] in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout or a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day.” Biden did not specify how many people would be permitted to consume hot dogs together before an FBI SWAT team intervened.
On May 4, 2021, Biden announced that he wanted 70% of American adults to be vaccinated by Independence Day. On June 2, Biden declared that people should “exercise your freedom” to get vaccinated so Americans can enjoy a “summer of freedom.” On the day of the holiday, the Biden White House titled his remarks as “Celebrating Independence Day and Independence from COVID-19.” Biden proclaimed, “We are closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.” Biden sounded like a high priest issuing a reprieve to his fearful flock: “We can live our lives.” But two months later, Biden announced that Americans had failed him and commanded that more than 100 million private citizens get COVID vaccine injections which the Biden White House browbeat FDA into approving. (The Supreme Court nullified his edict for 84 million citizens.)
Independence Day should be a vivid reminder of how badly officialdom behaved in the past. The Founding Fathers carved the First Amendment to ensure freedom of the press after the crown’s appointees muzzled criticism of King George’s regime. The Second Amendment, recognizing the right to keep and bear arms, was spurred by British troops seeking to seize firearms at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches because British agents with general warrants would ransack any colonist’s house. The Fifth Amendment’s eminent domain provision was written after British agents claimed a right to seize without compensation any pine tree in New England for British navy ship masts.
But the battles our forefathers fought to secure our rights have long since been forgotten amidst a deluge of abuses at the federal, state, and local government level. There are good reasons why barely 20% of Americans trust the federal government nowadays.
Americans should take their Fourth of July to higher ground. What matters is not what politicians say on any given day but the principles and values by which Americans live. Regardless of how often government agents violate the Constitution, citizens retain all the rights for which our forefathers fought. Government has become far more oppressive and intrusive in recent decades. But we still have enough freedom to left to make it hot—at least sporadically—for politicians who trample the Constitution.
On the Fourth of July, Americans should recognize those who fought for individual freedom in past times and those who are fighting for it now. One of my favorite Washington Fourth of July events was the “Stop NSA Surveillance” rally a decade ago. That protest occurred one month after Edward Snowden began leaking documents exposing the Deep State crime wave. Thomas Drake, a former National Security Agency executive who heroically whipped the Justice Department in federal court, challenged the audience: “The government has given up on the Constitution. Have you?” Drake warned that “the acid of government secrecy is eating out the heart of who we are as a people” and that “national security has become the state religion.” His warnings are as true now as they were then—and the Fourth of July is a fine time to watch this video of Drake’s fiery speech.
To safeguard our remaining rights, we must keep up a spirit of resistance to official abuses and political lies from all parties. Federal Judge Learned Hand warned in 1944: “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it.” On this Fourth of July, Americans should nourish that spirit of liberty by taking a long walk, drinking a good beer, or heartily cussing the politician of your choice. As I tweeted eleven years ago:
July 4 is my Independence Day, regardless of how depraved the government has become.
— James Bovard (@JimBovard) July 4, 2012