“At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.”
Frederick Douglass spoke those words 170 years ago, in his great speech “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” They seem appropriate today.
I’m thinking, of course, of the U.S. Supreme Court. Ignoring a whole lot of convincing argument, the court’s far-right majority upended decades of settled law with breathtaking speed and arrogance. In a week’s time, it:
- Overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating a nearly 50-year-old right to abortion.
- Made us less safe by giving gun owners a right to carry their weapons in public.
- Made the planet more vulnerable to climate disaster by checking the EPA’s ability to regulate pollution.
- Gave a green light to religious coercion by siding with a Washington coach who led public prayers after football games.
- Ruled that, in some states, taxpayers must fund religious schools that discriminate.
And we’re supposed to be celebrating freedom?
It’s tempting, right now, to focus on the damage, to lament how the court is reshaping our lives in ways that most Americans don’t support. We could wring our hands over the 2022 elections, accepting the pundits’ claims that reactionaries are sure to win.
Or we can fight back. We can help candidates for public office, especially at the local level: for example, for school board or state legislature. We can lend our talents to community organizing efforts (e.g., Hoosier Action in Indiana). We can support groups working on issues that matter, whether that’s abortion, gun safety or something else.
Today, we can reclaim the Fourth of July, which marks the day the colonies declared they were independent and announced a commitment to equality and universal human rights. Douglass, while excoriating slavery, called the Declaration of Independence the “ring-bolt” to the chain of American identity. “Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost,” he said.
Let’s also reclaim the American flag while we’re at it. Pair it with a Black Lives Matter or rainbow flag if you like. Fly it with pride, like New York Times columnist Margaret Renkl:
“It’s right next to the front door, and it does not symbolize MAGA lies or MAGA tyranny. We are flying it proudly in honor of our fellow Americans who are fighting for justice of every kind.”
Scorching irony can wait until tomorrow.