As usual, Donald Trump doesn’t get it. He has it exactly bass-ackward!
He wants to use the military to celebrate America’s birthday, July 4th. He is blissfully unaware that, on this day, the United States did not win its independence, we declared it. In a strong, clear voice, Richard Henry Lee, a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, rose and moved that, "These united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states."
Our founding fathers, in approving his declaration, demonstrated for any who would care to observe, that the ‘pen is truly mightier than the sword’. They demonstrated that it was ideas that would make America truly great, not military muscle. While patriots would, of desperate necessity, fight to win that initial freedom and would, time and again, defend the moral value of those ideals, it is the idea of America that is truly great.
Donald Trump is incapable of grasping this reality.
The Fourth of July brings many images to mind: Barbecues. Parades. Fireworks. Lots of red, white and blue. But the loud, boisterous, spontaneous jubilance comes from the freedom that our founding fathers declared to the world 243 years ago.
The United States’ Independence Day is July 2 — when the Second Continental Congress made the unanimous decision to break from England. However, the actual Declaration of Independence wasn’t approved and adopted until July 4, when the Liberty Bell was rung in Philadelphia. John Adams, in a letter to his wife, stated, “It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” He did not say that we should celebrate with a despotic show of military force.
The 4th of July is a truly unique American Holiday. To me, this is the best of our national holidays – the holiday with the most profound meaning — at least secular. This is the day we celebrate our Independence — and, with that independence — freedom.
For the first time in our history, our President has elected to change the nature of our national birthday. As Trump is wont to do, the President has turned a day of loud, boisterous celebration, a day of distinctively American joie de vivre, into political theater — complete with a show of force only a bully would admire.
Adams didn’t suggest that our President should take this day as an opportunity to self-aggrandize. Indeed, it was the very nature of King George III that accelerated our severed ties with Great Britain. But that was a different time in American history. Those were a different breed of American leaders.
There can be no clearer expression of those differences than by comparing Trump’s admiration of despots and their choke hold on their countries — and his flirtation with lifetime rule — with the response offered by King George III when told George Washington would step down as ruler in America after it won its Independence, ” If he does that, he will truly be the greatest man in the world.”
It seems, however, that Trump does share a despotic, narcissistic opinion with King George, who said, “Everyone who does not agree with me is a traitor and a scoundrel.” If you close your eyes, can you not imagine hearing Trump say these same words?
Erma Bombeck once aptly wrote, “You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees…but it is patriotism.”
No more. Now, we must be subjected to political grandstanding…a faux show of military might…put on largely to assuage the guilt that only this Commander-in-Chief could feel. A Commander-in Chief who used his wealth and position to dodge service to that same nation he professes to love with such ardor.
Tomorrow, we will likely hear much from Donald Trump about fake news. Yet, seldom has he pointed out — as least correctly — examples in which the news about him was fabricated. In truth, while most Americans know the basics about Donald Trump — that he is rude, obnoxious and that he routinely bends the truth, there is much we do not know. John Adams summed up this problem best.
“Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right…and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers.”
In the letter previously cited, Adams also alluded to the cost of freedom, “I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states”. In short, freedom is not free.
The price America has paid to maintain our freedom has been dear.
Freedom rings as loudly today as it did at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, thanks to our determination as a nation and our courage as a people. Some might argue it rings louder still thanks to our unrelenting pursuit of the ultimate American ideal that Thomas Jefferson wrote in our Declaration of Independence “…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.”
The National Mall is home to the memory of our nation’s past, and it is where we celebrate what Americans have achieved since the days of our founders. It is here that we also honor the sacrifice of those lost in defense of freedom. Who we are as a nation is reflected in that wondrous pool surrounded by so many quiet, yet inspiring memorials.
When one visits the World War II Memorial one finds the words "Here we mark the price of freedom" engraved in front of a wall of 4,048 gold stars. Each star represents 100 Americans lost during the war. At the Korean War Veterans Memorial, honoring 36,914 fallen, one finds the words "Freedom is not free," and at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial one finds the names of 58,261 heroes honored for their courage and sacrifice. Abraham Lincoln is draped in the Stars and Stripes at the Lincoln Memorial. President Lincoln preserve our union during the American Civil War, in which 620,000 Americans, north and south, were lost. The message of these memorials is clear — freedom has come at a great cost.
Tomorrow, Trump will point to tanks and planes as the measure of American values. He will do so because he neither understands nor cares for our true values — our high ideals and our moral principles. Trump will not honor the treasure lost in defending those values — he will defile it.
As the 1st president to live in the White House, John Adams left us with one other profound statement — a plaintive, fervent prayer , "I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this House, and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof."
That prayer, under Donald John Trump, has gone unanswered.