How do you love a country that elects a president who tweets something like this?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2017
How do you love a country where nearly half the people who went to the voting booth chose a man who campaigned on fear and hate? How do you love a country where the majority of our elected representatives are arguing over how many millions of its citizens should have their health care stripped from them?
I like to make pie on the Fourth of July. I like to wear my Captain America T-shirt and watch fireworks with my family at the Old Soldier’s Home in D.C., where there are food trucks and face-painting and crafts. But Donald Trump’s presidency makes it more urgent than ever this Independence Day to think seriously about what your patriotism means.
America has always demanded thoughtful patriotism, even if many of its citizens choose not to comply. The anniversary we’re celebrating is a day when a group of white men – many of whom owned their fellow human beings – declared they and they alone had rights given to them by God. But that day and in the years to come they created a framework for the greatest expansion of human rights in history.
Over time the rights to speak and worship freely, vote for our representatives, own property, participate in civic life, and even marry has been expanded to larger and larger groups of people. Our Union is far from perfect – no human institution ever will be. Millions of Americans face injustice every day because they’re black or brown or women or gay or poor or for countless other reasons. But America is better than it was in 1776, and that progress is worth celebrating.
But plot that progress and you won’t get a straight line or a smooth curve. There are dips and plunges: Supreme Court decisions like Plessy v Ferguson that cost people their humanity or attacks on our rights in the name of national security, like the internment of Japanese-Americans.
The moment we elected Donald Trump, America began a fresh decline. From his Muslim ban to his refusal to recognize Pride Month, every step President Trump has made has been a step in the wrong direction. He’s rolling back progress made protecting our environment. He’s working with Congress to take away Americans’ health care.
But that’s only part of the story. Trump isn’t just another conservative politician. He isn’t driven by ideology at all. He uses the power of the presidency to destroy faith in institutions critical to American democracy like an independent press and an independent judiciary. He’s a ridiculous figure who regularly embarrasses himself with behavior that remind me of my four-year-old son in his worst moments. He’s corrupt, using his position to line his pockets by regularly promoting his businesses. And he is now under investigation for potential obstruction of justice.
We’ve had bad presidents in the past. Trump isn’t just a bad president; he’s a bad human being. His presidency, just 23 weeks in, has made America an uglier and more unjust place. We knew what he was headed into his presidency. He didn’t keep it a secret on the campaign trail, where he attacked the media and individual citizens and ran on a platform of racial resentment and fear.
Donald Trump makes it tough to celebrate America. Our greatness as a nation lies largely in our stability, and though that line of our progress may wobble, it is on a clear course. We argue and fight and veer wildly from one ideological direction to another, but our institutions persist (nevertheless). But in less than a half a year Trump has shown us just how fragile the American experiment has always been.
Clearly he should not be president. He doesn’t have the temperament, the intelligence, the focus, or the dignity the office requires. Everything from his stupid tweets to firing Jim Comey to raising the price at Mar-a-Lago after his election to taking sides in the dispute between the Gulf states and Qatar should be enough to sink his presidency. But with the majority of Congress concerned more about their political futures than the future of the nation, his grip on the White House hasn’t loosened.
Cancel the fireworks? Forget the pie? How can we be patriotic in Trump’s America?
We can because we have to. Our deeply flawed Founders were fighting injustice, and so many have given up so much to expand and continue that fight. White supremacy is real. Sexism is real. Homophobia and xenophobia are real. And when we fight them, we are loving America because we are striving for that more perfect Union we all deserve.
So this Independence Day, don’t shy away from patriotism. Embrace it. Make it yours. Declare your love for America by promising to fight every day to make it better, to resist our repugnant president and everyone who supports his regressive agenda.
Make the pie. Enjoy the fireworks. Celebrate America’s 241st birthday in style. And recommit to fighting President Trump and his agenda, because you are what makes America great.