Civil Rights

No reason to light fireworks this Fourth of July

In years past, I was about as patriotic an American as ever you would find.

Heck, as a kid I put up an American flag in my room and pledged allegiance to it every day, school or no school.

But those days are long past, and for the first time this year, I won’t be celebrating July 4th because, honestly, I just don’t see my country the way I used to.

{mosads}It’s not that I don’t appreciate the sacrifices of the many who gave their lives to ensure my freedom; I do. It’s just that I can’t pretend any longer that we are the bastion of hope and freedom that I once thought we were.


We’re no longer the “Land of Opportunity.”

According to the Brookings Institution, 42 percent of babies born in the bottom fifth of the economic strata in the US will remain there as adults, and only 8 percent will ever make it to the top fifth.

In European countries, the first number tends to be 25 percent to 30 percent and the latter 11 percent to 14 percent.

We aren’t even among the world’s strongest democracies.

In fact, according to the Economist’s Democracy Index, the U.S. is a “flawed democracy.” Frankly, they’re being lenient.

When one takes into account gerrymandering, the Electoral College, voter disenfranchisement, shadow organizations like ALEC drafting legislation for legislators, and the amount of money that is now being allowed to affect our politicians, it is evident that we are considerably worse than simply flawed.

We’re certainly not a dictatorship; but our institutions have been undermined, our freedom of speech is under attack from our own president and from corporations (through restrictive employment contracts and excessive litigation – consider, for instance, the case just brought against John Oliver for his mocking of Robert Murray), there is a tremendous wealth gap, and our justice and patent systems are largely determined by the financial resources of those involved.

We have a mass incarceration problem, an opioid epidemic, a woefully inadequate educational system, and a government that, according to an exhaustive study by Princeton Professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern Professor Benjamin Page, is more of an oligarchy than a democracy, with the government considerably more responsive to the rich.

This past election also revealed a great deal of racism, bigotry, and misogyny lurking beneath the surface of a country that has prided itself on being multicultural and accepting of others. Over 60 million people were willing to vote for a white supremacist who led the racist birther movement, proposed banning all Muslims, regularly insulted Hispanics, bragged about sexually assaulting women, and willfully courted white anger.

It’s hard for me, as someone who believes in loving and respecting all people, to put out the American flag and act as if I’m proud of my country. In fact, I’ve noticed what I call the Patriot Rule: the more American flags someone has out and the louder they are in their patriotic fervor, the less accepting of others they tend to be.

A friend recently stated to me that such jingoistic displays strike her as symbols of intolerance, and I’m prone to agree.

Donald Trump campaigned (and, it appears, is still campaigning) on the slogan “Make America Great Again.” The implication is that America is not great, and on this he and I agree.

If we were great, our politicians would put country over party; if we were great, we would have a healthy opposition demanding electoral reform; if we were great, we would have healthcare for all and not let people die simply because they don’t have enough money; if we were great, the wealthy would not have such an inordinate influence on our politics; if we were great, over 30,000 people wouldn’t die from guns each year; and if we were great, we would not have a white supremacist and habitual dissembler as president.

This Fourth of July should be met with protests, not pride. Anyone who truly believes in the tenets of freedom and republicanism shouldn’t be lighting fireworks, but lighting a fire beneath our politicians, demanding change.

It was people like Martin Luther King, William Lloyd Garrison, and Alice Paul who improved this nation – those that demanded reforms when reforms were necessary.

And there is no doubt that if Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, or Cesar Chavez were alive today, they wouldn’t be sitting idly, playing on their iPhones and watching stupid videos; they’d be speaking up, and rather vociferously.

This year, let’s skip the pomp and circumstance; it’s not befitting.

Ross Rosenfeld is a political pundit who has written for Newsday, the New York Daily News, Charles Scribner’s, MacMillan,, Primedia and The Hill.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Brookings Democracy Donald Trump Fourth of July income inequality Independence Day July 4th
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