Nothing But Fireworks: A Reflection on the Fourth of July

As things continue to fall apart, Americans should learn to pay less attention to nationalism and focus on the origins of Independence Day

Fifty-six. That’s the number of men who risked everything they had to make a statement to a tyrannical leader. That’s the number of men who knew if their side was defeated, it was they who would be put to death first. That’s the number of men who, despite their personal and political differences, understood the importance of liberty and equality under the law.

John Trumbull’s “Declaration of Independence”.

238 years ago, the Declaration of Independence was signed and adopted by the Second Continental Congress. It announced that after years of abuse and unjust representation by the British Empire, the thirteen American colonies were to be regarded as independent sovereign states under a new nation: the United States of America.

It was not an easy document for the delegates to sign. By signing this, these men had placed a target on their back as they were committing treason against the British Empire. Many of the signers’ property was destroyed as a result of their support. Three delegates from South Carolina were even imprisoned when British forces came marching through the South.

But to these individuals, the rights of men were worth standing up for. The rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” were to be secured by a government whose power was based in the consent of the people, and, if that government abused and persecuted their citizens, Americans had a duty to overthrow the government and start anew.

Thomas Jefferson remarked, “All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. … For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”

So, in 2014, I have one question to ask: what happened to that importance of standing up against tyrants? Somewhere over those 238 years, we have forgotten that mentality and have become a people divided, a people more worried about barbecues and parades than freedom when July 4th shows up on our calendars. The vast majority of Americans have failed to remember what our Founders had to go through to become a sovereign nation, and instead have turned Independence Day, which should be a reminder of the bravery of those 56 men, into a once a year circus of American flags and nationalism, sentiments that quickly fade after the festivities are over.

Now, this would not be a big problem if the government we have was respectful and understanding to the rights of Americans that were stated later in the United States Constitution. Unfortunately, this is not the case. At the federal level, we have the NSA mining user data without your permission, the TSA invading your privacy without a warrant and agencies specifically targeting conservatives through their mandated authority. On a smaller scale, local law enforcement officers are forcing people to succumb to Breathalyzer tests or blood sampling with the threat of having their driver license revoked, again without a warrant.

A symbol of the times? (Photo and caption credit to Reddit user Quttlefish)

There is no level of government unable to ignore the appeals of tyranny. They have disregarded our basic rights in the name of safety and legality.

In addition, there is also the problem of lobbying. While I do respect lobbying as some form of free speech, it has allowed corporations to use their influence and power to pass legislation that serves their interests rather than ours because of the way Congress is able to engage in crony capitalism. This, in turn, has created a revolving door between Congress and lobbyists to ensure that money rather than people are represented.

As a result of the combination of these actions, the popularity of the United States government as whole has tanked dramatically. The Real Clear Politics average approval rating for Congress is 13 percent. For President Obama, it is under 42 percent. This, in turn, has resulted in an average of 63 percent of Americans feeling the nation is on the wrong track when considering its future.

So, everyone is on board that our government has become unfit to properly represent the American public, right? Yes and no.

You see, even though we are extremely dissatisfied with our elected officials, we have failed to do anything about it. In the last 50 years, the lowest reelection rate in the House of Representatives was in 1970 and 2010 with 85 percent of incumbents being reelected. The Senate has had better results, with the lowest reelection rate being 55 percent in 1980. Ultimately, there has been a lack of serious change in Washington concerning the opinions and people running our lives. We have failed to address our problems because we keep on electing the same people who trampled on our rights in the first place back into office.

While some may say the solution is to elect the other party, it really does not matter which party we elect if we keep having big government statists nominated. Both sides have had their moments of supporting government growth, and neither option sounds that appetizing. On one side, we can point fingers at George W. Bush for supporting the PATRIOT Act which allowed our phones to be wiretapped in the name of eliminating terrorism. On the other, we can point fingers at President Obama for tolerating the NSA’s excessive use of surveillance technology.

Points like these can tell you one of two things. One, Americans are completely naive and do not know what is going on with their elected officials. This I find hard to believe, as many polls like the ones I have mentioned previously show we are not satisfied with what is going on in DC. (Plus, calling all Americans stupid does not win you a lot of fans.)

The second possibility is that the vast majority of Americans just do not care about the seriousness of the issues we are in. While liberals and conservatives are busy arguing semantics and social policy and an overarching attitude of apathy among Americans, our rights have been deteriorated by a government we do not favor or care about.

Regardless of what the reason is, we are in serious danger of succumbing to tyranny, and it is time we all did something about it.

Protecting our rights and assuring our representation is just not a right or left issue; it’s an American issue. It does not matter who is to blame at this point in time. It is our fault for electing the same people every single election cycle and expecting different results.

As previously mentioned, the Declaration of Independence states the American public has a duty to overthrow an unjust government. While I do not suggest we should invoke violence and start a second American Revolution, I do believe it is time for all of us to be aware and active in changing our nation.

Much like Howard Beale in the 1976 film “Network”, I do not have to tell you how bad things were. You probably knew all of this information already through social media, but nothing is going to change if we do not change first. We, as a nation, must start to show some level of anger towards what our elected officials are doing. To quote Beale, “Things have got to change. But first, you’ve got to get mad! You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”

Peter Finch as Howard Beale in the 1976 film, “Network”. (Courtesy of Warner Brothers Entertainment)

Speak to your Congressmen, bang on their doors, write them letters, call them so much that their interns begin to recognize your number every time the Caller ID pops up. Tell them to respect you not only as a human being, but as the person who controls whether or not they continue to have a job. Make them realize that they are not your boss, they are your equal.  Then do the same with your Senator, your local Representative, your Mayor, and anyone who is doing a disservice to you and your fellow constituents. If they don’t change, vote them out of office and pick someone who can accomplish the main goal of protecting our rights.

Which brings me back to celebrating the Fourth of July. We have to drop the once a year ‘Murica nationalism. Forget the fading fireworks, forget the fleeting barbecues, and forget the expensive parades. And for a few moments, drop the minuscule political opinions that are tearing us apart. Remember the origins of Independence Day, stand up with your countrymen and get mad.

Fifty-six men were able to stop a tyrannical government from controlling their lives. It would be a shame if 310 million people allowed one to control theirs.

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