What I’ll Be Celebrating on the Fourth

As an American writer, the following reminder strikes me as absurdly obvious, but in absurd times the obvious bears repeating. Friday is Independence Day. It is not Veterans Day or Memorial Day. As befits a nation founded on ideas, our chief holiday lifts the quill above the bayonet. Had the Father of Our Country wanted a tribute to war, we would save our Roman candles for October 19.

The jingoes will rectify General Washington’s oversight come Friday. Your ears will ring with dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, not "we hold these truths to be self-evident." Expect myriad scenes of "liberation" overseas; expect little notice of the man who penned these lines:

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

And God forbid anyone recite the following:

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

We must support George IV and his Hessians in the colonies, mustn’t we?

That’s an odd way for a free people to commemorate their own struggle against empire. How about some genuine patriotism on the Fourth? Instead of buying an Australian huckster’s plan for America, let’s declare our independence anew. Turn off Fox. Light your bottle rockets with blazing copies of The Weekly Standard (justly acquired, of course). Ignore the hyperreal "America" of Los Angeles, New York, and D.C., a martial fantasy produced and directed by Rupert Murdoch, starring George W. Bush. Now gaze at the real country around you, with all its merits and faults, and decide whether you want Independence Day or Independence Day.

In a must-read essay at Counterpunch, Bill Kauffman untangles these two countries. One is a chorus of oligarchs spouting democracy, diversity, and freedom; call it the "military-industrial-infotainment complex," the United Simulacra of America. Don’t bother looking for it in your atlas, because there’s no there there. You and I live here:

I am of the other America, the unseen America, the America undreamt of by the foreigners who hate my country without knowing a single thing about it. Ours is a land of volunteer fire departments, of baseball, of wizened spinsters who instead of sitting around whining about their goddamned osteoporosis write and self-publish books on the histories of their little towns, of the farmwives and grain merchants and parsons and drunkards who made their places live.

Which would Thomas Jefferson choose, national goodness or "National Greatness?" Kauffman is hardly being metaphorical when he writes, "[T]he difference between republic and empire might be restated as the difference between taking the girl next door to the Sadie Hawkins Dance and paying a Saigon whore in chocolate bars and the Yankee dollar."

No, I won’t spend the Fourth applauding the death my dollars have wrought. Nor will I indulge the sad patriotism of feeble minds, those who think they flatter their country by bashing Lafayette’s. I will celebrate the real America, the friendships, investments, ideals, and ingenuity that have produced so many heroes. To each his own pantheon, of course, but the worship of presidents and soldiers is incompatible with a free society. I’ll take Ben Franklin, George Washington Carver, Dorothy Parker, John Coltrane, Bear Bryant, Merle Haggard, and Martha Stewart over Woodrow Wilson and William Calley any day.

So this July 4, let’s raise a glass to the spirit of ’76, and to all those still seeking independence. We need a little more rebellion here and now, to be frank. You think Sam Adams would bow to the likes of John Ashcroft? If you know the difference between a patriot and the PATRIOT Act, take a minute on Friday to give the King an earful. Posterity thanks you.