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On Independence Day

The nights leading up to Independence Day have been strangely quiet in our neighborhood. There’s been an occasional burst of fireworks, but nothing like the continuous barrage of explosions that lasted through the nights for an entire week in past years.

This is a welcome development, in some ways. We’ve reached that grumpy old man stage of life where the sound of fireworks after midnight or so has us standing on the porch shaking a fist at the young whippersnappers, and the firefighters are no doubt grateful for the decline in combustions during the current hot and dry spell. There will probably be fewer dimwitted children blowing their fingers off this year, too, and we suppose that’s also a good thing.

Still, the silence is somehow disquieting. We’re not so old that we can’t remember the reckless fun we once had celebrating American independence with Chinese fireworks, and even though we no longer indulge in the pastime we resent the local government’s constant efforts to regulate all the risk out of boyhood. It’s also worrisome that even the youngsters seem so unquestioningly compliant with all the rules.

The silence also seems to scream that the economy is bad. The city of Wichita used to pride itself on its spectacular Fourth of July fireworks displays in the heart of downtown, with pyrotechnics provided by a world-renowned local company reflecting off the Arkansas River to the accompaniment of the local symphony’s rendition of “The 1812 Overture,” but for the fourth year in a row it’s been cancelled due to budget constraints. Apparently the same thing is happening all over the country, even in the cities that haven’t declared bankruptcy. Given the scarcity of summer jobs, or any sort of jobs, the neighborhood urchins are probably forgoing their amateur fireworks displays for the same reason.

Worse yet, we can hear in the silence a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the American experiment that was begun on this date back in 1776, just as we can see it in the conspicuously smaller number of flags and red-white-and-blue bunting that are flying on the neighborhood’s porches this year. Such unabashed expressions of patriotism have long been considered gauche by the fashionable left, of course, but lately even the old-fashioned right hasn’t been in the mood for it. This is partly a consequence of all those rules and the bad economy, but the doubts seem to go deeper than that. Across the ideological spectrum there is a widespread distrust not only of America’s institutions, both public and private, but also a nagging suspicion of the citizenry itself.

We have our doubts, as well, and express them here on a daily basis, but they shall not diminish our enjoyment of this Fourth of July. On this day we shall set aside our partisan disputes, unless some liberal is just begging for it, and enjoy the good feeling that still comes from being an American. We shall play Ray Charles’ recording of “America the Beautiful,” accept a friend’s invitation to a party at her swank lakeside home, drink a beer or two, and perhaps even violate one of the local fireworks ordinances.

Despite the current state of America, the idea that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, is still something to be celebrated. It should be celebrated noisily, rambunctiously, even recklessly and in defiance of onerous rules. Then, when the celebratory fireworks have fallen to the ground in ashes, we should all cease this cacophonous silence and set about using our remaining freedoms to make the great country again.

— Bud Norman

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