The Third of July

As patriotic Americans we don’t want to spend the Fourth of July with another screed about the President of the United States, as it’s supposed to be one of those all-too-rare apolitical and non-partisan days, so we’ll get it off our chest on the Third of July. President Donald Trump seems intent on turning Independence Day into another one of his endless campaign rallies, with a heaping helping of militarism on top, and several million taxpayer dollars thrown in, with big-bucks donors getting front row seating, and we find it outrageous.
Starting with President George Washington it has been a time-honored tradition for presidents to stay out of the spotlight while the country celebrates the birth of America, except for a brief and humble statement acknowledging the occasion, but Trump cares little for time-honored traditions and always on insists on being the center of attention. He’ll be hogging a stage that’s been set up on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, claiming credit for the traditional fireworks just as he claims credit for people saying “Merry Christmas” in December, with generals and admirals of the American military standing next to him as tanks and troops march down Pennsylvania Avenue as fighters and bombers fly overhead.
Trump is calling it a “Celebration of America,” as if it were his novel idea to celebrate America on the Fourth of July, but everything about it seems a betrayal of American ideals.
The basic idea of the Declaration of Independence that was signed on the Fourth of July in 1776 is that all men are created equal, none are above the law, none are irreplaceable, and America’s greatness derives from e pluribus unum. Trump openly brags about being exceptional, brazenly violates the rule of law and dares his opponents to do anything about it, has repeatedly said that “Only I can solve,” and claims full credit for supposedly restoring America’s greatness by his clear efforts to divide the country. If he somehow manages not to do so on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the Fourth of July we will be surprised, but his mere presence there seems to imply his usual political rally rhetoric.
America’s military might won our independence from Britain, and has maintained our freedom throughout some very difficult years ever since, so of course it deserves some gratitude on the Fourth of July. Still, the show of strength that Trump has planned is not the way to do it. The top military brass has made it clear to Trump that their soldierly humility makes them uncomfortable flexing their muscles in gaudy parades, the enlisted men and women would probably prefer to have a day off with their families rather than being props in a Trump propaganda ploy, and the whole thing seems more like something you’d see in the old Soviet Union or modern day North Korea rather than in the United States of America. The draft-dodging Commander in Chief bragged the parade would include the Sherman tanks, although there haven’t been any Sherman tanks for more than 50 years, and he also bragged there’d be the newest Abram tanks, although they’re actually called Abrams tanks.In Trump’s skewed worldview America is great because it can kick any other country’s ass in a war, but to our thinking America has that capability because a nation of free men and women and free markets that doesn’t want a fight with anybody made it rich enough and great enough to sustain such a formidable force.
As rich as America is it’s more than $20 trillion in debt, and racking up a trillion more every year even in what Trump calls the best economy ever, and Trump’s show of force won’t help with that problem. He’ll spend millions with the flyovers, millions more rolling tanks and other armored vehicles over streets that weren’t designed to bear such heavy loads and will surely require expensive repair afterwards, and he’s diverting some $2.5 million dollars appropriated for the upkeep of national parks to pay for the stage on the Lincoln Memorial and the other changes to the time-honored tradition of Fourth of July celebrations in Washington, D.C.
Way back in our early teens we had the good fortune to be in our nation’s capital for a couple of Independence Days, and we can say that even Trump couldn’t have made it any greater. They had great fireworks even then, which lit up the skies over the Washington and Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and the Capitol and the reflecting pools and the rest of the gorgeous National Mall, and it was jam-packed with Americans of all hues and every variety, and nobody seemed to care much who was a Republican or who was a Democrat. Rich or poor didn’t make any difference, either, and there was a wonderfully palpable sense of e pluribus unum.
Tomorrow we expect there will be a lot of people in those red “Make America Again” ball caps showing up for another Trump rally, as well as a lot of people and that “Baby Trump” balloon showing up to protest the President of the United States, so at least a few fist fights will result. You can add the D.C. and Capitol Hill police department’s costs to the total bill, and subtract that from how great the Fourth of July used to be on the glorious National Mall of our nation’s capital. The big bucks donor who bought the front row seats for Trump’s speech and “Celebration of America” might not notice, but any average American who gets caught up in the potential riot surely will.
Our plan for tomorrow is to watch our city’s annual dazzling fireworks display in front of the Wichita Art Museum on the banks of the Little Arkansas River, which will light up the skies over the  Keeper of the Plains statue on the nearby confluence with the Arkansas River that marks the spot still  held sacred sacred by the plains Indians. We look forward to sharing the moment with Wichitans of all hues and every variety, and not caring who’s a Republican and who’s a Democrat. Wichita still has a palpable sense of e pluribus unum, and now that we’ve got this off our chest we won’t let the likes of Trump ruin that on a Fourth of July.

— Bud Norman

Holidays for a Slow News Day

President Donald Trump has a novel idea for a big event in Washington, D.C., called “Salute to America.” It would feature a parade and lots of fireworks, and Trump would like to hold it annually on or about July 4.
>Parades and fireworks have been a tradition in Washington for the past couple of centuries, and it’s not at all clear how Trump’s “Salute to America” would be different, but at least Trump would be able to take credit for it. There’s also a good chance some Democrat will raise an objection, allowing Trump to “tweet” about his critics’ lack of patriotism. All things considered, it’s not the worst idea Trump has come up with
There’s no reason Trump should stop there. He could also propose a holiday dedicated to giving thanks in late November, celebrated with a parade and lots of turkey, and call it “Gratitude Day.” Trump’s clearly a romantic type, so he could further suggest a holiday sometime in mid-February dedicated to love, perhaps called “Grab ‘Em By the Pussy Day.” There must be a date open in to celebrate Irish-Americans with copious beer drinking, too, and that could win him a few jokes. Some time around the fifth of May would be good to celebrate Mexican-Americans with copious beer drinking, but that might lose Trump some of his base support.
Another idea is to start calling every Wednesday from “Trump day” rather than “hump day,” and let people observe it however they wish. Some would no doubt whack at Trump-shaped, but others would surely don their MAGA caps and take a whack at a journalist.
These are just suggestions, though, and we’re sure that Trump has plenty of other ideas to draw attention to himself.

— Bud Norman

Independence Day

The past several Independence Days have been bittersweet. It is still sweet to celebrate the ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that gave birth to our nation, but there’s no escaping a bitterness when looking around at what has become of them.
Almost everywhere is evidence of the decline and fall of America. The news briefs on the radio invited us to take heart in the latest job numbers that have pushed the unemployment rate down to a more or less respectable 6.1 percent, but they were too brief to mention that the number of working age Americans not working actually increased, that the number of full-time jobs actually decreased, and that the more the U-6 rate which includes the underemployed and involuntary part-time workers and discouraged workers remained at a Depression-era 12.1 percent. That $17 trillion of debt and all the bubble-inflating money printing that has kept the numbers even at these sluggish levels also went unmentioned, and of course there was no time to consider if the looming disaster of Obamacare and its incentives for employers to hire part-time workers who rather than pony up for the mandates on full-time workers has anything to do with it.
Obamacare and all the rest of the thousands of regulations and taxes and assorted governmental intrusions into the economy are clearly part of the problem, but there’s a nagging suspicion that it’s not all that’s gone wrong. The government is bossier and more lawless and as as incompetent as ever, as shown by the relentless storers about everything from its use of the almighty Internal Revenue Service to punish the dissenters to the endless waivers and delays and recess appointments and far-reaching executive orders issued by the president to the infuriating mistreatment of American veterans by their health care service or the administration-made invasion of illegal immigrants unfolding on the nation’s southern border, but none of that would have happened if the public hadn’t allowed it.
Another one of the great ideas that gave birth to our nation was a notion that America and its and government aren’t quite the same thing. The government had important work to do, and over the years it has done it with varying degrees of success and ethical behavior, but the heavy lifting was done by the likes of Thomas Edison in his laboratories and Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club and Milton Friedman in his office at the University of Chicago’s School of Economics and those guys eating lunch on the beam of the New York City skyscraper in that iconic photograph. The people used to do great things, and the government would let them, but for whatever reason we’re seeing less of it these days. Nowadays the great inventions are new social media and libido-boosting pills, the music no longer swings or bops or boogies or rocks but rather just thuds a monotonous nihilism, the big economic idea seems to be that no one should be allowed to get rich, and the photographer in search of an iconic image will have to find a disgruntled fellow in casual Fridays attire sitting glumly in an office cubicle. There’s still some space left between the government and the people, but it isn’t being put to good use.
Fireworks are already being ignited around our neighborhood in defiance of the city’s ridiculous ban, though, and the people of a small town in southern California have just risked the wrath of the high-minded media to repel an invasion of illegal immigrants, and some encouraging polls show people are wising up about the government. Ideas such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not easily extinguished, and might yet reassert themselves. There’s still some room left to make them happen again, and people who still prefer them to free contraceptives or the state’s protection from an oversized soft drink, and reason for hope.
A former Miss Texas has invited over to her swank lakeside home for a party, and a hipster pal down the street has asked that we join him in blowing things up along the banks of the nearby Arkansas River, and we’ll charcoal some hamburgers and bratwurst in between and revel in the sweetness of the American idea. Come Monday we’ll resume our modest efforts to make it come true again, and we urge you to do the same.

— Bud Norman

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