File this editorial under, “careful what you wish for.” As a nation, we just celebrated our Independence Day. Just before that, a few thousand Sonoma County high school seniors took their first steps toward adulthood and independence. All of us are emerging from a year-plus of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. A few of us are swearing by our independence to not be forced to vaccinate. And, all those 3- and 4-year-olds under our feet keep letting us know that one definition of independence is the ability to say “no.”
But be warned. Independence is a two-sided coin. On one side is freedom, self-determination and sovereignty; on the other side is responsibility, accountability and self-control. Like freedom itself, independence does not come free.
The American colonists declared their independence from the crown of England and fought an eight-year war with over 30,000 deaths to win their sovereignty. They claimed the “full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do,” in the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The signers of this sacred document also wrote down the costs of such rights and freedoms. “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
As we now know, our imperfect union that we call the United States of America — with those sacred pledges and honor — was not present on Jan. 6, 2021. And, they have not yet been restored in the Congress, the body named in the U.S. Constitution as the guardian of all our freedoms and independence.
It felt liberating to share Fourth of July gatherings, community celebrations and reunions under red, white and blue banners. We shared relief from the long months of the smothering pandemic. But any rejoicing we did that our nation’s independence remains as strong as ever amounts to bearing false witness. The unresolved and unrenounced insurrection of our nation’s capitol on Jan. 6 jeopardizes the sacrifices and sacred trusts of America’s first patriots and all fallen soldiers from all our wars for freedom since.
The Founding Fathers who authored the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution did not take their hard-won independence for granted. The chapters of separated powers between the judicial, executive and legislative bodies of our republic established safeguards against anti-democratic or authoritarian powers. Madison, Jefferson and Franklin did not fear an invasion from foreign states so much as they sought to protect against an insurgency or thirst for power from within.
The victors of our two world wars could never imagine that we now risk failing to preserve the sacred trust and honor they fought and died for. We have had past Independence Day holidays where there has been a divided citizenry. The violent summers during the Civil Rights movement or the swelling protests against the Vietnam War did not make for happy Fourth of July picnics or parades. But those were civil disagreements and grew from democratic debates and protests. The Jan. 6 insurrection was uncivil and anti-democratic.
We cannot predict what our America may look like when the next Independence Day arrives in 2022. Will the anti-democratic forces and sentiments of nationalism, white supremacy and big lies recede or grow stronger by then? Can we petition or take action to force our elected senators and representatives to restore a “firm reliance on the protection of divine providence” and our sacred oaths to one another, and to all Americans? These are troubling questions we wish were not on our minds on any Fourth of July.