When the Fireworks Fizzle
Yesterday, July 4th, 2017 was my sixty-second Independence Day. Depending on the direction this country moves in the next year, it very well might be the last one I celebrate. Not because I won’t be around, but because, after last night, the holiday I have long held dear has lost its luster.
For the last several years, my husband and I have watched the fireworks display in Carson City Nevada, at a beautiful park with mature trees, a little steam train, and a carnival. We share the experience with one of my daughters and her family and, since we took guardianship four years ago, the grandchildren we’re raising. We come early, have a picnic dinner and the kids run around, often joining up with other children who’ve come to enjoy the day.
The weather is warm this year, so when we arrived at the park around four yesterday we sought a big patch of shade in the area where the fireworks viewing is best. We found the perfect spot beside a large Mexican family, who was more than happy to share the area. We spent the afternoon and early evening in lovely communion, our kids and theirs playing light sabers and tag. We listened to their wonderful raucous music. They barbecued and we ate sandwiches and there were no problems at all.
Around dusk, however, another group settled behind us, and most noticeably immediately in back of the Mexican family. There were five adults and a couple of kids and one of the men was open carrying a handgun on his hip. He was quite obvious about being in possession of the small weapon, which made me extremely apprehensive. I tracked down a sheriff’s deputy, who informed me this is an open carry state, no permit required, and, “Welcome to Nevada. If you don’t like him sitting behind you, move.”
We chose to stay, although both ours and the Mexican family moved forward, knotting closer together. They lowered their music. Our conversations muted. The joyous mood dampened, though our children didn’t notice and continued their happy play. In a show of solidarity, I went over and spoke with the people next to us, voicing my support. But truthfully we felt menace at our backs, though it didn’t totally materialize until the fireworks began.
With the first burst, the adults behind us yelled, “America!” With the second, their children joined in, “America!” It became a chant, quite obviously directed at the darker-skinned people in front of them. “America!” And as the display picked up speed toward the finale we all knew was coming, “America!” turned into, “Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump.”
By that time, I was sobbing. I’ve seen this kind of brazen nationalism in videos, of course, but it was the first time I experienced it less than ten feet behind me, and it was more than I could take. I picked up my stuff and hurried away before the final giant eruption, unable to stomach watching it because its symbolism had not only been tarnished, it had been poisoned.
The rising rot in the well of our democracy has debased our republic. This country was built on diversity of culture and human spirit, and to witness it crumbling into
ruin beneath the weight of prejudice and hate is almost more than I can take. I say almost because I’ve chosen to join forces with “the resistance.” The term is mocked in ultra-conservative circles, which dare to claim patriotism while reveling in the vilest anti-American movement of my lifetime. That is what we resist. That is what we rally against.
Our America isn’t Trump. It is none of the things he represents: greed, corruption, scandal, sexism, racism, aggression, and the driving need for admiration at any cost, despite earning none. It isn’t sporting a weapon to assert authority or superiority. It isn’t teaching your children to live in fear of their neighbors. It isn’t transporting hatred in your holiday picnic basket and setting it loose in a purposeful move to intimidate others.
If that is the country we ultimately allow ourselves to become, I won’t be celebrating Independence Day again, because that America is worthy of contempt. Not fireworks.