Skip to contents
Culture
Free

Cancel the Fourth of July

Now and forever.

In case you missed it: Discourse Blog will be offering paid subscriptions starting on Monday. Get all the details here.

The coronavirus pandemic has been very terrible in so many ways, but there are always silver linings to even the most rain-drenched clouds. If there is one good thing that can emerge from the mess we are in, let it be this: the ending, once and for all, of the Fourth of July.

I am a fan of July 4, the day, because it is my cousin’s birthday and I am a big fan of my cousin, whose birthday deserves to be celebrated. But the Fourth of July sucks and has always sucked, for the obvious reason that celebrating and being patriotic about America is, shall we say, extremely questionable as an activity.

We’ve been given great reasons to cancel the Fourth of July since at least 1852, when Frederick Douglass pointed out that it wasn’t a particularly joyous day for all the enslaved people in America at the time. (It was probably not a wonderful occasion for all the slaves that the Founding Fathers were terrorizing while celebrating their own “independence,” either.)

Douglass’ immortal speech has since become part of the American canon, a way of pointing out that the U.S. has “struggled” to achieve its “ideals,” but to me, he was giving us a great excuse to just back away from the whole Fourth thing.

Now, thanks to the pandemic, and the ongoing anti-racist rebellion, we have even better reasons. Both have underscored the bigotry, cruelty, and inequality at the heart of the American project. To rally around the flag right now is to rally around a country currently in the midst of letting its citizens be washed away by the viral tide, or ground under the bosses’ heel, or brutalized by the white supremacist shock troops (also known as the cops). And that’s before you even get to all of the ways that the U.S. makes the entire world a more miserable and degraded place.

What better moment than now to reject the hollow hypocrisies at the heart of American patriotism and take this Fourth of July off? We can’t even go anywhere to celebrate it! And once people see how comfortable it feels to just say no, maybe we can just forget the whole thing next year too, and the year after that, and the year after that, until the Fourth of July is just a distant, flickering memory. The fireworks can stay though.