Independence Day comes at a time when the United States is rocked by hearings on the January 6 insurgency, is in turmoil over Supreme Court rulings on abortion and guns, and is struggling to maintain the common ties that bind them together.
But many also see reason to celebrate: The pandemic is still on the retreat and America’s democracy is surviving despite its weaknesses.
“I think a lot of us are feeling conflicted about celebrating the Fourth of July right now,” steeplechase champion and advocate Amelia Boone tweeted as the week gave way to the bank holiday long weekend.
In her eyes, patriotism is also about fighting for change, she said, adding, “I’m not giving up on the United States.”
That sentiment will no doubt be shared by millions who on Monday will celebrate the nation’s 246th birthday and the anniversary of independence from English rule.
It’s a day to take off from work, flock to parades, devour hot dogs and burgers at backyard grills, and gather under a starry sky and exploding fireworks — in many cases for the first time in three years amid the easing of coronavirus precautions .
Baltimore, for example, is resuming its Independence Day celebrations after a two-year hiatus, to the delight of residents like Steven Williams.
“I used to be up there every year. Then it stopped,” Williams told WBAL-TV. “I haven’t seen her in a few years.”
Colorful displays large and small will light up the night sky in cities from New York to Seattle to Chicago to Dallas. Others, however, particularly in drought-stricken western regions prone to wildfires, will forgo it.
Phoenix is also again forgoing fireworks — not because of the pandemic or fire concerns, but because of supply chain issues.
In emotional ceremonies across the country, some newer residents will take their oath of citizenship, entitling them to vote in the upcoming midterm elections for the first time.
Certainly these are precarious times: an economic recession lurks and the national psyche is still raw from mass shootings such as those recently seen at a Texas elementary school and a New York supermarket.
Sharp social and political divisions have also been exposed by recent Supreme Court decisions, which overturned constitutional abortion rights and struck down a New York law restricting who can carry a gun in public.
But for many, July 4th is also an opportunity to put political differences aside and celebrate unity by reflecting on the revolution that produced the longest-lasting democracy in history.
Eli Merritt, a political historian at Vanderbilt University whose forthcoming book chronicles the troubled founding of the United States in 1776, said that “there is always something that divides us or unites us.”
But he sees the Jan. 6 hearings investigating last year’s storming of the US Capitol as a reason for hope, an opportunity to stand behind democratic institutions. While not all Americans or their elected officials agree with the committee’s work, Merritt is heartened by the fact that it is at least somewhat bipartisan, and some Republicans agree.
“Couragement as a place for Americans to place hope,” he said, “a willingness to stand up for what is right and true despite negative consequences for oneself. This is an essential cement of democracy based on the rule of law.”