On July 4, I have a ritual that includes listening to Paul Robeson sing “Ballad for Americans,” reading the Declaration of Independence aloud with my husband, and eating chocolate ice cream. The last ritual is a remainder of my childhood 4ths, when we made ice cream in my mother’s old hand-cranked churn. The Ballad is also a childhood icon. I grew up thinking that Robeson had sung it for FDR at his first inaugural, but it turns out that the song wasn’t written until 1939. We had a set of 78’s, which my parents had bought in 1941 when they first started to date.
I grew up imbued by my parents with a passionate belief in American ideals of liberty and justice and I often feel baffled and frustrated by our divagations from those standards. The Supreme Court and the Presidency both seriously undermined our fundamental freedoms in the last decade, while the third arm of the government, Congress, has been so busy feeding at the public trough that they’ve paid no heed. When Justice Scalia ruled that it’s okay for police to break down people’s doors without showing a warrant, there was no outcry in press or Congress. And the behavior of the executive branch makes for a mighty uncomfortable reading of the Declaration.
Among George III’s abuses detailed by Jefferson are:
“For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences”
I think we’d all hoped Barack would end secret courts, and bring any suspected terrorists to trial, rather than holding them indefinitely. We’d all hoped for more daylight on torture committed by our government.
The one right that keeps expanding here is handgun ownership. Congress is now allowing weapons in federal parks. Arizona, in the same week that it sharply curtailed abortion rights, expanded gun ownership rights.
But it’s the 4th of July, time for ice cream and parades, not for worrying about 2 billion handguns in a time of high economic anxiety. I’ll think about that tomorrow. In the meantime, Happy 4th, and wherever you are on this planet, I hope you find a way to live your life in freedom, as FDR said, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and above all, freedom from fear.