A flag waves during Fourth of July fireworks in St. Louis in 2006. (Photo: Timothy K. Hamilton)

We celebrate the Fourth of July with festivities marking our nation’s 242 years of independence, and with scenes of hyperpatriotism.

People will sing the “Star Spangled Banner” or recite the Pledge of Allegiance or reenact the Continental Congress of 1776 or simply watch reproductions of the “rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air,” much of it on a grand and highly commercialized scale intended to show ourselves and the world our mettle to “Make America Great Again.”

America’s need to showcase her nativist spirit of patriotism comes this year with more hypocrisy and inhumanity, contrasting with the denial of fundamental freedoms and protections to various disenfranchised, vulnerable and historically marginalized populations. 

President Donald Trump’s indefensible policy of criminally punishing undocumented immigrants crossing the border from Mexico into the United States highlights how Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy means zero humanity – from separating children from their families, even a child while being breastfed, to locking up families together indefinitely in detention centers.

With Trump now having an opening to appoint a pro-life Supreme Court justice in the hope of overturning Roe v. Wade, women’s reproductive justice is at risk, affecting predominately the poor, disabled and women of color.

There is already an erosion of LGBTQ civil rights under the guise of religious liberty. A new Trump Supreme Court justice will likely go after Obergefell v. Hodges, returning same-sex marriage to the states.

What we’ll see on the Fourth is already on display in sports, where the culture since 9/11 has created a sports-military complex so that now many white fans come not only for the entertainment, but to display fidelity to police and the military. Whether athletes stand for the national anthem and how we feel about it has become a test of American patriotism – ignoring that the protest of kneeling athletes is a statement against police brutality and systemic racism.

While Trump bloviates isolationist rhetoric, our democracy hangs in the balance.

This is not the first time America’s Independence Day celebration didn’t include all its citizens, though.

I am reminded of the African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ historic speech, “What, to the slave, is the Fourth of July?” In it, he stated to a country in the throes of slavery, “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence … I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us … This Fourth of July is yours, not mine.” 

As a lesbian American, one of our most significant moments of patriotism in this past century was the Stonewall Riot of June 27-29, 1969, in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

And as an African American, I am proud to live up to what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his Montgomery Bus Boycott speech Dec. 5, 1955: “The great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right.”

Evangelical patriotism is suffused with conservative or fundamentalist tenets of Christianity. It waves the flag of “God, guns and glory” that’s sadly shaping today’s political landscape. Perhaps that’s why America’s school-age children are asking for gun reform at the March for Our Lives rally held in the nation’s capitol, but our government’s response is a willingness to spend more money arming teachers with guns than to supply them with textbooks and computers.

America has changed radically since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. America’s acceptance of racially and religiously profiling Muslims or those who look like or worship like Muslims is all done in the name of patriotism, but it is really fear and hatred of the “other” and is un-American.

Patriotism increasingly is defined narrowly, accepted and exhibited only within the constraints of its own intolerance and narrow worldview.

And this ugliness has imploded on us. 

We have become a country where partisan politics rule the day, where we can no longer agree to disagree and shouting matches laced with expletives have taken the place of civil discourse. 

One of our most famous American Revolution heroes is Patrick Henry. His famous final words, “Give me liberty or give me death,” in his speech March 23, 1775, explained how he viewed himself as the “other” yet maintained the core value of being an American patriot.

 “No man thinks highly than I do of patriotism … but different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve.”

With so many Americans feeling the effects of a polarized country, this Independence Day celebration is for whom?


The Rev. Irene Monroe is a speaker, theologian and syndicated columnist. She does a segment called “All Revved Up!” on WGBH (89.7 FM) on Boston Public Radio and a segment called “What’s Up?” Fridays on New England Channel News.