Some Thoughts About Independence Day

By the time you read this editorial, Independence Day will have come and gone. Nevertheless, the date, July 4, should occasion thoughts—which we hope persist in your minds—about what “independence” means, and to whom.

In particular, consider the meaning of the first lines of the Declaration of Independence to different groups of people, in light of current circumstances: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” 

Stop for a minute. Look at that last phrase after the comma, about governments “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

There are millions of rebels, thousands of whom invaded the U.S. Capitol, on Jan. 6, some waving Confederate flags, who believe—to be blunt—that only their consent matters. 

If the rest of the country does not accept their diktat the 2020 election was “stolen” from their leader, pseudo-dictator Donald Trump, well, there was no “consent of the governed.” 

For the insurrectionists and white nationalists, the rest of us—workers, women, people of color, the young, and anyone who isn’t a white conservative male “Christian”—don’t count.

But we do count, and we said, and voted, so. We threw Trump out. So, the rebels tried to, in the declaration’s next words, “alter or abolish” the government. What to do about insurrectionists? Well, find them, arrest them, try and convict them, according to due process of law—a right they would deny to you and me—and sentence them.

That still leaves a thorny problem: What do you do about their inciter, Trump, and his enabler toadies from coast to coast in the Republican Party, both in office and out? 

Well, there is a route to get rid of them, too. It’s called an election, in 2022 and 2024—if the Trumpite GOP politicians don’t succeed in locking the ballot boxes against the rest of us.  Meanwhile, two groups of U.S. residents can legitimately say they weren’t freed by the American Revolution, which we mark every July 4: Black people and Native Americans.

Great abolitionist orator Frederick Douglass put the case scathingly before the white electorate, when he pointed out July 4’s independence did not free the slaves. It kept them enslaved, by the Constitution in the South and with legal restrictions in the North, until 1865.

And then Black people were re-enslaved by Jim Crow in the South, racist custom and federal policy in the North and elsewhere, and economic slavery nationwide, from 1877 onward. Many Black people would argue, quite legitimately, that economic slavery continues to this day, and that current GOP-enacted voter repression legislation is a restoration of political slavery.

Native Americans are justified in questioning “Independence Day,” too. Andrew Jackson created the “Trail of Tears” and sent hundreds of thousands of Native Americans out of their ancestral and/or treaty lands. Many died on the way. That 1830s disaster of exile followed many prior decades where white settlers treated Native Americans as, literally, savages to be killed. 

Persecution of Native Americans dates all the way back to 1690s New England, for example. It dates all the way forward to current economic exploitation by rapacious energy companies who think nothing of defiling Native American lands and poisoning their underground water aquifers, all in the name of greater profits from shipping oil from Alberta to Texas. 

Independence? What independence? Especially when, as a group, Native Americans are at the very bottom of the U.S. barrel in income, life expectancy, health care, employment, education and recognition—and first in suicide, alcoholism and despair as a result. 

We realize this isn’t the happiest editorial to write on Independence Day. And there’s more, much more, we could say, about maltreatment and repression of everyone except those right-wing white nativist “Christian” males we mentioned before. 

But after 12 months that saw the start of racial reckoning, acceleration of a pandemic that laid bare yawning income gaps between the rich and the rest of us and between white and Black, and another yawning gap in ideology between “Christians” and non-“Christians,” stop and think about what independence means. 

Not just to ourselves during our barbecues, beachgoing and fireworks displays, but to everyone in the country—and to whether everyone really holds to “these truths to be self-evident,” as professed by Thomas Jefferson.                

Opinion by PAI Editorial Services