What to the rest of us is your Fourth of July

As Washington D.C. prepares for Trump’s obscene 4th of July celebration with a military parade, tanks, and fireworks; attended by those fat cats who can afford tickets and make political donations; and witnessed by the millions in the Trump cult, I cannot help but think of the words and outrage in Frederick Douglass’s 1852 speech “What to the slave is your fourth of July.” Douglass was of course talking about slavery, but his words can be applied to other forms of bondage. There are those in bondage to poverty, those in the bondage of health needs who cannot afford medicine, treatment or private insurance, those in the bondage of being able only to get by rather than get ahead, and the detained immigrants, especially children, who are in literal bondage. Trump has turned the national celebration of liberty and freedom into something more akin to the Russian May Day celebration or parades to feed the ego of military dictators. Douglass’s words:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

The celebration is of course to appease those for whom this is the greatness they seek, the greatness they voted for, the greatness that Trump promised them. It is the compensation that makes up for their fear of losing status in a country that is changing, and spiritual or physical the meagerness of their lives. It is a symbolic presentation of what W.E.B Du Bois called the “psychological wage” of whiteness or what historian David Roediger called the “wages of whiteness.” It is meant to distract from the economic inequality that we face by binding the country together in an “imaginary community” when everything Trump has done divides us. Like a magician he means to divert us while he and his cohorts enrich themselves by stealing us blind, deregulating industry, and ignoring climate change.

Those who see what is going on behind this smokescreen cannot allow his “celebration” to distract us. We have work to do. We have to see that for all its people America lives up to its ideals, surpasses its slave origins, and becomes that place that all the patriotic songs sing about. Accept nothing less. As Ella Baker said “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” That is what we should remember on the 4th of July and every other day.

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