I don’t believe we have ever experienced a Fourth of July holiday quite like this. Last year at this time, I was challenging the notion of patriotism if that patriotism motivates people to bury an uncomfortable past so as to secure their power over the present, and future. Such an exercise is perfectly in line with the basic concept of the holiday, as far as I am concerned: A recognition of the nation’s inception should always include meditations on how, and why, or if, that nation is changing.
This year, however, there are no meditations, but only the shocked and bleary thoughts of a car accident survivor seconds after the impact. So much has changed so jarringly, and not just because of COVID-19.
After White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s historic testimony before the 1/6 select committee, every conversation I had the next day began with “DID YOU SEE?” It was a breath of fresh air to be able to discuss real courage for a change, but Hutchinson’s performance could not obscure the fact that a president beyond control tried to turn a heavily armed mob on Congress to overthrow the election results. It could not obscure the better-than-average chance that same person could become president again in 2024.
The Supreme Court, in a blur of weeks, has changed the fundamental rights available to millions of people in this country — and even the prospects of humanity’s survival. The overturning of Roe v. Wade trashed 50 years of settled reproductive rights. In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District and Carson v. Makin, the separation of church and state was deeply wounded. New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen opened the door to rain concealed guns down on a society already battered by extreme gun violence. In United States v. Zubaydah, the government was allowed to hide a CIA black site where a prisoner was tortured. In West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, the court eviscerated the EPA’s ability to regulate polluters.
Freedom. Privacy. God in schools. Guns everywhere. The stain of torture again obscured. Polluters let off the leash in the face of escalating global climate crisis. It is difficult to fully encompass what has taken place here, how quickly it has come, and what is to be done now. Look out the window and everything seems the same… yet in truth, everything is different, and the frontal assault by right-wing forces upon all the progressive gains made last century is only just beginning.
A country that can make such positive changes is worth struggling to protect. A country that can burn those changes down in a breathless run of weeks is flatly terrifying. On this July 4, we are both countries, and we are neither. We are formless in the void, a ball of molten rock waiting to be shaped. What part will you play in that shaping?