Independence Day 2020

Happy Independence Day 2020. Or, if you can’t be “happy,” just reflect and observe.

We have a pandemic, and our country sucks at getting out of it. We squandered a lockdown to get things under control and prep up testing, tracing, and any other means of mitigation. The only thing that is predictable is fear and unpredictability, and they are what they are.

I’m just hoping that New York and New Jersey can try harder to keep things okay and not like it is in the rest of the country. But, I heard that Connecticut is doing very well with the Covid numbers. So, maybe it isn’t all crap in the tri-state area? I don’t know. Who knows?

At the individual level: keep your masks on, stay six feet away, and wash your hands. I really don’t trust that we keep hoping and praying that individual responsibility will save us, because individual behavior has not persuaded me on that front.

On the local and state levels: keep testing and contact tracing. Well, this presumes that a spread of Covid hasn’t made contact tracing impossible and that there are enough capacity and supplies for testing.

I wish that the federal government can provide real leadership, but… these are such trying times on so many, many issues.

Happy birthday, America. Thanks to Facebook’s On this Day/Memories feature, I get to review my past status / comments on past July 4s. I can’t quite tell what my arc is – maybe more cynical and reflective, than freely patriotic? What is patriotism? Can we grow and reason where we are and choose to proceed where we want to go?

According to Facebook: on July 4, 2017, I said, “…take a moment to reflect on the meaning of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ and don’t forget that the Constitution does say we’re ‘to form a more perfect union.’ I was listening to Brian Lehrer’s show on WNYC the other day and he made an interesting point about America’s birthday: like any birthday, acknowledge it, warts and all, and hope (and work) for better. “

So, can we reflect and learn? Do we acknowledge the warts and all, even if we can’t and should not accept them?

On July 4, 2018, I noted on Facebook this quote from James Baldwin: “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

Take the criticism and use it for what it’s worth. Constructive criticism? Can this country take it?

I’ve recycled this status / comment on Facebook for two years, and maybe I’ll do it again: “As I get older, I’m more struck by the end the Declaration of Independence: ‘And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.’ The Founding Fathers were about to do something dangerous, and they knew it. But, they went ahead together, in hopes of something good and better, and as social contract theory – working together in agreement – meant something to them.”

Do we understand what social contract theory means? Do we want to work together, do we have agreement, or are libertarians right – that individualism prevails, so who cares? Is that how we sacrifice democracy and rule of law?

I’m rambling. And, I apologize to libertarians for being so glib. But, I’ve been frustrated with individualism because it seems so neglectful of others.

You’re welcome to do a search on the blog and look at our prior posts on Independence Day. (I may be recycling my ideas or concerns at this point?).

Anyway, I don’t have Disney Plus, so it’s not like I’m joining in on the fun of streaming a Hamilton watch of the original cast. As much as I’d want to see Lin-Manuel Miranda as the original A. Hamilton, triscribe – well, FC, P, and I – did see it when Javier Munoz played the role. (we saw it when he had alternated with Miranda; he later took over the role).

Munoz was arguably the sexier A. Hamilton (NY Times’ chief theater critic Ben Brantley said so way back in 2015!). 😉 But, as Miranda acknowledged recently, they did have to keep the filmed/streaming Hamilton PG-13 for audiences!

However, seriously, you don’t have to look to a Broadway musical – as good as “Hamilton the Musical” is – to learn American history. Is that musical all about how Hamilton and the rest of the Founding Fathers were heroes? Not quite. Is it great about showing their weaknesses and failures? Eh. Maybe it’s not strong on portraying women, and the great sin of slavery and race relations weren’t the real aims of “Hamilton” (a musical isn’t the way to really show the sins of slavery and racism, is it? I mean, it could be, but not really?).

But, “Hamilton” is a great musical.

It can’t hurt to pair a watching of “Hamilton” and “1776” on July 4. That way, you get a whole bunch of Founding Fathers at once (and pretend that the Founding Mothers had some part), and maybe realize that a musical could be a way to see how such humans could be so vibrant and so human.

Do remember: the Founding Fathers really were only human. I wonder what they would think about where this country is going and how we let factions get in our way, and how we could be our own destroyers.

I wonder. Can differences of opinion create creativity and pull us together? Can we be better?

On July 3, 2020, I listened to the NPR Morning Edition annual reading of the Declaration of Independence. The words of Thomas Jefferson – no easy man to figure out – express outrage against the British and the decision to build a new identity. But, Jefferson’s words were also a tool – not to explain but also foment rage to get things going against a bigger power – those darn Brits, that horrible king who was so oppressive to the governors and people in America! – and yet, did Jefferson realize how many people in the future would draw inspiration from American ideals? He, a slave owner, may not have intended for freedom to be extended to all, but his words empowered others.

If Thomas Jefferson was a hypocrite – you know, “Do as I say, not as I do, regarding freedom” – what about other American leaders? Kind of like how Woodrow Wilson was complicated, even if he wasn’t that complicated. I thought that this article by Joshua Keating over at Slate, June 30, 2020, “The Accidental Anti-Imperialist,” was a fascinating read. As Keating noted, this is what’s odd (and not odd) about Wilson: for a man who was racist even for his own times, he inspired global cooperation, advanced an American foreign policy that was activist and into intervention (maybe for good and not-good reasons), and inspired anti-imperialist and anti-colonial movements.

Like Jefferson and the slavery issue, Wilson might never have intended anyone to take up against imperialism, but it happened anyway, because he used empowering words (his 14 points included self-determination!). It’s ironic, and history is full of these complicated ironies.

I’m not sure where I personally am on the issue of pulling down statuary and memorials or names of institutions of racist, imperialist figures, when so much of history is full of the likes of Jefferson and Wilson. Do we then have to figure out who are the forgotten”better” heroes of history and celebrate them? Maybe we should!

But, what if they turn out to suck too for anything awful that they did? (and face it, they probably were terrible parents/spouses/neighbors/etc. or even sexist/homophobic/bigots of some kind/etc.).

The bottom line is that we’re all hypocrites. I like to think that we should not “celebrate” figures; we should learn and realize nuance (somehow). There are moral questions and it shouldn’t be that easy to say we’ll just ignore the bad things a person did or forget the good that a person did. (This observation applies to understanding history: we can’t ignore the good or the bad and the ugly that a country like ours did).

Some things to think about anyway. The American experiment continues, 244 years later. Let’s keep trying to do and be better. Happy Independence Day, indeed.

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