Thoughts on the 4th of July

Gardens:_Shelburne_FarmsThe July 4th holiday has past, last night’s fireworks following a torrent of rain from an impressive thunderstorm. For a few days I have been thinking about the strange, or perhaps, not so strange, tension July 4th holds for me. My parents, as far as I know, did not face the holiday with the same discomfort, my father, in particular, taking great pride in his thirty years of military service.

I’ve been puzzling over what it is, exactly, that I find so discomforting. Perhaps I am most concerned by what is absent from the day: the simple fact that the colonists were as motivated by a desire to take more Native land as by their frustration with British taxes. The founding fathers greatly disliked any constraints on westward expansion. Soon after independence, Thomas Jefferson began the militarized acquisition of Native lands. He envisioned an ever-growing America, but needed a constant supply of “empty” land to fuel his dream. Later, Andrew Jackson would follow his lead, ignoring the Supreme Court to carry out the forced dislocation of most of the Native people of the Southeast. I wonder how the ceremonies and other activities that mark the 4th would be different if they included conversations about this history.

Speaking of Andrew Jackson, Cynthia Coleman Emery wrote a piece last week about Ted Cruz’s lionization of Andrew Jackson. Of course, Cruz is hardly alone; rather, he is one of a host of conservative politicians and commentators who hold Jackson as the ideal American President. Given Jackson’s blatant racism, one would hope we could, as a nation, find better models of leadership. Oddly, among mainstream commentators, there are few dissenting voices regarding Mr. Jackson.

Dr. Coleman wrote:

Although I don’t always agree with Supreme Court decisions I respect the authority of the country’s highest court.

When Ted Cruz told NPR this week the court ruled incorrectly on marriage equality and national health care I felt a chill.

Public relations stars aligned for Cruz: he’s announced his candidacy for president and is embarking on a book tour—fodder for headlines.

News reporters clamor for interviews and Cruz doesn’t disappoint.

According to reporter Steve Inskeep, “Cruz is making a case for ignoring last week’s Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.

At first blush, ignoring laws simply seems loony.

I’d hate to give authority to someone like Cruz who promises to defy the Supreme Court.

That’s precisely what Andrew Jackson did as president.

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Later, she noted the lack of public challenge to Jackson’s actions:

And no one defied President Jackson.

I hope someone defies Ted Cruz.

Maybe that lack of public conversation about these matters is what disturbs me the most about the July 4th holiday. There remains little public discussion about the darker side of U.S. history, nor unified outcry against the ongoing theft of Native lands, and willful disregard of other treaty obligations, by governments at all levels. Nor do we, as a country, discuss the simple truth that these are not just political problems; rather, they, like the vestiges of slavery, are deeply spiritual questions that challenge the soul of our culture.


15 thoughts on “Thoughts on the 4th of July

  1. the US is a wonderful country
    for a few, especially considering this contemplation of history.
    fits right in with my study of the 2600 year old dharma’s
    three poisons of greed, hatred & delusion.
    the US is built upon these three, imho 🙂

    1. Dear Smilecalm, Thank you for sharing this. I am participating in an international theatre conference in Montreal. There are wonderful folks from literally all around the world here, and the conversations are rich, deep, and wonderfully rewarding. Sadly, there is agreement that while many people are marvelous, there is also much greed, hatred, and delusion, and much of it thrives outside North America, even as the US is perceived as leading by negative example. Still, we are talking and sharing. It is good.

    1. Thank you, Cynthia-Lou, Your voice has been consistently true, strong, and thoughtful for a long time. I am glad to be able to share your work with others.

      I am in Montreal, meeting, theorizing, and playing with practitioners of theater for social change from literally around the world. The conversations are intense and thoughtful, and there are many bridges being built, although there are also deep divisions, and considerable frustration that European North Americans continue to shape the discussion, and many practices. The conference is focused on Playback Theatre which was developed by three marvelous people from Western New York state (two of whom are women!) The form is strongly women influenced, and much of the best theatre is coming out of Asia. Yet the authority remains mostly in North America. Disabled artists and Indigenous people are vastly underrepresented (especially in North America). Issues of representation are fiercely contested, although usually with considerable empathy and kindness. (Perhaps there is not that much functional distance regarding these matters between the sciences and the arts.)
      Still, there is a conversation, and some general willingness to question normative practices. We shall see where we go from here.

    1. Hi Irene, I am traveling so have been slow to return messages. The US, Canada, and Australia all have similar holidays, and all are complex and contested. The problem is that all three countries were founded on genocide, yet advertise themselves as democratic and pro human rights. The gulf between their behavior and their speech is enormous. Here in the US, the effects of slavery and the Native American genocide continue to affect those populations, but there is no real movement to address them. All in all, this is a painful and deeply disturbing situation.

  2. Well said, Michael. A lot of these politicians are totally out of touch with the “real” world of the average person, sometimes ignorant to the core, sometimes simply deceptive. But it is scary – this push towards ignoring democratic process and simply wanting to institute one’s personal convictions (or whatever the financial donors are interested in). Ignoring Native, African and Hispanic Americans is just more business as usual for these elitist, out-of-touch, and often super-wealthy white males (and an occasional female sprinkled in).

    1. Dear Beauty, I’m writing from Montreal, where we are talking theatre and social change with folks from around the world. One theme is the difficult women face in simply being heard, let alone acknowledged. Then there are many people from the non-Western world who work for equality in truly difficult environments, and, of course, LGBT folks whose very lives are endangered. It is a rich conversation, in which I often feel awkward insisting that Aboriginal people and persons with disabilities be given a seat at he table. Folks here are, for the most part, mutually supportive, but also know resources are limited and the need enormous. The view of the US is generally as a bully, and that association requires constant attention by those of us from the US. Yesterday I found myself swapping stories with several people, representing three continents, about times we found ourselves blamed for the actions of our governments, only to find common ground, and a pint or two of ale, with our accusers. Those are indeed precious moments. Cheers!

  3. Interesting thoughts Michael, it’s a shame that these conversations don’t form part of the celebrations so that we all get a more balanced view of our histories. In England we don’t really have any celebrations that are similar – the closest thing is probably St George’s Day, the day of our patron saint, but we don’t make much of it in the way that, say, St Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Ireland – though if we did, I’ve no doubt our colonial history wouldn’t have much part in the conversation.

    1. Dear Andrea, I’m at a conference in Canada, but more about that soon. Anyway, First Nations people here have pretty much the same experience as in the US, except they make up a much larger percentage of the population, so actually get more attention. (A First Nations woman opened the conference!) I’ve been chatting with Australian colleagues (European) who work very hard to support Aboriginal voices. So, while things seem interminably slow to change, they do change. I like to remind myself that my Native female ancestors married Scotts and Irishmen who came to this land knowing trauma, and thus, knowing something about the fear and grief the women held. Very little is straight forward, and forgetting is easy.

  4. My boy (8) and I just learned about how A Jackson spurned the high court’s ruling and paved the Cherokee Trail of Tears. Just awful, to say the least. You are absolutely right through and through. Beautiful, rich closing thoughts.


    1. Holistic Wayfarer, Yes, he was dreadful. I find it terribly disturbing that he remains a hero to so many, people who know what he did. Anyway, it seems important to find hope in the darkness. Blessings!

  5. Michael, it has been a long time since we sat in a circle at Burlington College with a Saturday morning faculty gathering, hosted by David Joy.
    I enjoyed your reflections on the 4th of July. For most of us, it is a holiday, a moment of euphoria and Santa Claus-like happiness of our country. It does glisten over the subterfuge that exists now and in the past. Like a Carl Jung future that worried him throughout his life, we now have voices echoing the past flaws of our country as the brightest moments. If someone had told me in 1969 that this would be happening, I may have requested the universe transfer me to another part of existence and skip the ballyhoo on planet earth. But, here we are, and, all we can do is keep praying for the healing of all souls on earth to come to their senses.
    Thank you for the work that you are doing. It is much appreciated!
    Steve Ballou

    1. Steve, It is lovely to hear from you. I like to imagine the Creator sends us where we are needed. That being said, as we age, the steep uphill climb can be more than a tad daunting. Sometimes, like now, I fgeel downright tired and grumpy…. Isn’t it good to have companions on the journey?

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