Celebrating the Fourth of July

How can I ever forget my childhood memories of the wonderfully optimistic celebrations of the 4th of July?

It was a day to be proudly patriotic, a day commemorating the courageous signing of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. It was the one day in the year when fireworks were plentiful in the New York suburb where I grew up, there were hot dogs, hamburgers, and freshly picked corn on the cob and there seemed no end to the festivities.

I even remember, hand on heart, reciting the pledge of allegiance to the flag, albeit my memory failed at the last moment, and I got the lines of the pledge mixed up.

Perhaps for some, this year’s Independence Day celebration will have that same sense that America is truly exceptional, Republican President Ronald Reagan’s oft-mentioned ‘city on the hill’ is flourishing and as the song reminds us, this is “the land of the free and the brave.”

How happy it would be if it were true if the myths that we were taught to cherish could be supported by today’s reality, or better, surreality. It is hard to decide which of the nation‘s current ills deserves preeminence.

Until recently, no institution in American life stood taller and more majestic than our Supreme Court. The blindfold over the eyes of the statue of Lady Justice on the steps of the Court building is there to remind us that justice is blind, that it knows no favorites and answers only to the truth.

In the Court’s most recent term which has just concluded, the justices made a lie of both its impartiality and its reputation for blind justice.

In overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade, which for almost fifty years has guaranteed women the right to abortion, the Supreme Court has set back equal rights for women far beyond just the question of abortion.

As written in the strongly worded dissent from the three liberal justices, including the only two women then on the court, “…young women today will come of age with fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers.”

That’s hardly something ‘independent’ to celebrate. And if this was all there was to it, it would be more than enough to dampen the celebration. One fears it is only the top of the iceberg.

In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion.” One does not have to be a legal scholar to know that the Constitution does not confer many rights like driving an automobile or eating an ice cream cone, but that hardly means they don’t exist. They come under the umbrella of the 14th Amendment.

“Substantive due process is a theory that precedes from the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of liberty” writes Melissa Murray, a constitutional law professor at NYU Law School. “And the idea is that that broad grant of liberty is a substantive font of individual rights, rights that are not necessarily explicitly enumerated in the Constitution.

“They’re implied in that broad understanding of liberty and the right to privacy, the right to an abortion, the right to marry, the right of parents to raise their children in the manner of their choosing, the right to contraception. All of those rights proceed from a theory of substantive due process grounded in that grant of liberty.”

With a Supreme Court majority of decidedly right-wing justices, hardly libertarians, the Roe precedent’s reversal threatens many other unenumerated rights.

Opinions on the right to carry weapons and the power of the federal government to mandate clean energy regulations have gone against sensible and necessary gun restrictions and the need to rein in the energy industry from further destroying the planet.

Not surprisingly for a Court with a strong religious fervor, the separation of church and state has also been abandoned allowing tax-payer funds to be used to fund religious schools.

We must ask if we wish the unelected Justices of the Supreme Court — three of whom were appointed by a president who had lost the popular vote even as he won the electoral, — to follow its narrow parochial focus or take into consideration the strong feelings of the majority of Americans, the ultimate electorate.

Writing in ‘Medium’, Jessica Wildfire has captured those feelings and the angst motivating much of our nation, people unlikely to join in the independence celebrations.

“Every single day, Americans are forced to reconcile a hundred fatal contradictions. We have to believe we’re saving the planet, even though carbon emissions keep going up every year. We have to believe our individual actions matter, even though a single billionaire has more power than thousands of us combined.

We have to believe we can work hard and get ahead, even as we watch the price of life itself soar beyond reach. These competing scripts would fry a computer.”

Instead of another joyous rehearsal of our day of independence and its calls to flag-waving this fourth of July, we would do well to listen to the pain and anger that is engulfing the nation.

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