By David Glanzman
“I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope,” Frederick Douglass, 1852.
In recognition of this recent Fourth of July, I decided to take a brief reflection over American history and our nation’s current events to answer one important question: Is there anything we collectively have to celebrate?
Independence Day is traditionally a prideful holiday with firework spectacles thundering across the night sky, people draped in patriotic clothes and American flags, and a day off from work or school.
Lately there has been a bombardment of back-to-back news headlines, especially those surrounding the Supreme Court’s actions. In 2022 alone, America’s legislative landscape has changed shape following the decisions in overturning Roe v. Wade and the NYSRPA v. Bruen case.
While writing this, I cannot seem to think of two more controversial decisions that could have been determined by a handful of unelected officials. It seems anyone I know or have known has opinions on abortion or gun laws, and these are two topics that lead to sensitive, personal responses—and rightfully so.
The highest downside in America today is the apparent overreach of government power, having a couple of elites make decisions that affect the entire population as the “supreme law of the land.” Sensitive issues such as these should ultimately be left up to people to decide, and when in doubt always resort to more liberty to the people, not the ivy league people.
The bright side I’d argue will be taking us back to a Fourth of July speech delivered by a man who lived a life that would by no means have been legal in today’s world—the freed slave and brilliant man Frederick Douglass.
“While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age,” he said back in 1852.
Mr. Douglass faced horrors no person in today’s United States could ever legally experience yet he delivered words with hope. Hope that the promises made in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence would be honored for all American people. One of these promises lists that any power not delegated to the federal government will remain with the states, the people.
With all this said I close my ramble by saying that with all things considered there is celebration due for America’s independence, as we can all celebrate the progress being made and that will be made. There is a clear genius to American institutions when the founding documents are what lead to successes of movements such as those for civil rights, women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights in dark times when the documents were better than the people in power. The First Amendment alone allowed Martin Luther King Jr. the ability to publish his famous letter, the freedom to assemble in Washington D.C., and the freedom of speech that ended segregation with a dream.
As Americans and more importantly, humans, we must remember the overturning of Roe v. Wade does not outlaw abortion, so states do still have the power to determine their abortion laws in a more direct democracy. The Bruen case does decide more rights for individuals’ personal protection outside their homes (this is coming from someone who doesn’t feel particularly safe with the idea of over 6.3 million citizens carrying firearms in a crowded city, but I will stand by the stance of supporting liberty when in doubt for an argument’s sake).
If these decisions shine a light on any problem, it’s the problem that comes with controversy being decided for everyone. Perhaps the rights reserved by the states should stay reserved, then citizens of New York can decide the laws that best suit their lives, and those of Chickasaw County, Mississippi can determine theirs. We are a diverse 50 states with different needs and wants, and controversial issues aren’t appropriate to be decided as the “supreme” law.
I am arguing not for celebration of the nation’s past, and certainly not for nationalism (I find it ridiculous to have pride in the nation you were born in since that’s something you had no control over). Instead, I’m arguing for celebration of the United States’ part in this evolving world. We are merely people of one nation in a large blue world, and there’s more for us all to work for.
As Fredrick Douglass said, “Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference.”