I no longer assume we know what we are celebrating on the Fourth of July, or that we’re celebrating at all. So I ask the question of myself and others. In 2022, the United States is still great for many of us — life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and all that — but its foundation has numerous cracks:
- Members of one of the nation’s two main political parties still approve overwhelmingly of a former president who poisons the democracy with lies about the election he lost; that former president, a grifter who called the press “the enemy of the people” and refused to condemn white supremacists, intends to run for the White House again;
- The Supreme Court, stacked with extreme right-wing Catholic ideologues, has begun a disturbing rollback of rights and freedoms affirmed over the last century; in the next term, Republican legislatures in numerous states may be empowered by the Court to ignore the winner of the popular vote in the next presidential election;
- Dark money, a spawn of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, continues to flow into political campaigns and effect public policy in profoundly negative ways;
- A Congress locked in hyper-partisanship achieves almost nothing for long periods, even as climate scientists tell us we’re running out of time to keep the only planet we have livable and sustainable;
- The top priorities of the Republican Party are twofold: serving the plutocracy and maintaining power through minority rule, both politically and racially;
- Many American conservatives appear to be opposed to direct democracy and comfortable with the prospect of an autocracy — or the “illiberal democracy” they admire in Viktor Orban’s Hungary.
I have pointed out in columns and blog posts the admiration one U.S. congressman — the awful Andy Harris of Maryland — has for Orban. But Harris is not alone; other Republican members of the House think Orban provides a great model for America: A kind of soft dictatorship with control of the media and courts, the neutralization of political opponents and the establishment of hard borders to maintain white Christian purity. Read this New Yorker story to learn more about Orban’s Hungary. It could be what the next American republic looks like.
I say “next” because I am not sure the foundation established 246 years ago will hold, and I’m not alone.
The Congress that declared independence on July 4, 1776, wanted no part of a king or aristocracy. The union was imperfect but it evolved over time and through a civil war. The Constitution guided us, separating and balancing government powers to safeguard the interests of majority rule and minority rights, of liberty and equality.
Those of us who were under the impression of permanent progress — that is, a country that grew smarter and more humane as it grew larger and more powerful — look at where we are now and wonder what happened.
How could millions of Americans vote a vulgarian into office?
How could Republicans in the Senate brazenly and hypocritically ignore long-honored rules to stack the Supreme Court with a 6-3 conservative majority?
How could the GOP support candidates who further Trump’s big lie?
How can Trump, who was at the center of what appears to be a criminal conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election, be considered the Republican front runner for 2024?
I’m sure a lot of you have these same questions.
The problem is, almost half of Americans do not. They refuse to see the danger approaching, or they’ve decided they prefer the strongman form of government to the one that was handed to us more than two centuries ago.
Hyperbole? No. I do not dismiss any possibility.
So what do I celebrate on this Fourth of July 2022? Two things: That I can still freely express my opinions and that I still have a few cells of optimism in my bones. I remain, despite what I’ve just written, semi-optimistic that more Americans will come to their senses before it’s too late for this old democracy. I’ve not given up completely.
Of course, I also believe the Baltimore Orioles will be in the World Series within the next three seasons. So there’s that.