Tag: Independence Day

A Shining Moment

This past weekend, people all over America expressed patriotic fervor. After all, we live in a free country, full of natural beauty. And we strive for lofty goals of democracy and fairness, while extending a heartfelt welcome to immigrants of all types.

Ha-ha. Just kidding about that last part.


You’ve heard, no doubt, about the demonstrations in Murrieta, California, where protesters blockaded busses carrying undocumented immigrants to a detention facility. The immigrants, “many of them unaccompanied children, were being brought from overcrowded Texas detention facilities for processing in California.”

The protestors waved American flags and chanted, “USA! USA!” They also indulged in some, shall we say, less-than-classy behavior (including the occasional slur). In any case, these uber-Americans forced the busses to turn around.


Now to be fair, it must have been a bit shocking for the fine people of Murrieta to learn that 140 undocumented people would be dropped off on their doorstep. And the protesters were quick to claim that it wasn’t, you know, a racist thing. Of course not.

But the imagery is hard to downplay.

All I’m saying is that is that it is not exactly courageous to terrorize busloads of traumatized women and children. And heckling poverty-stricken people is not the stuff of patriotic legend.

However, for all those people in Murrieta who still think they were standing up for America, well, let’s put it in perspective.

The Founding Fathers won independence. Lincoln freed the slaves. The Greatest Generation defeated the Nazis.

But you held up a sign and screamed vulgarities at little kids.

Clearly, it was hero time.


A Fundamental Misunderstanding

On this Independence Day, let’s acknowledge a truly patriotic viewpoint. Yes, regardless of our political orientation or cultural viewpoint, we can all agree on one thing: most Americans are stupid.

People on the left think that of people on the right, people on the right think it of people on the left, and we all have disdain for the wimps in the middle. Because most people don’t agree with us on a given subject, they are stupid.

Of course, if we really think about it, it could not possibly be true that a majority of our fellow citizens are mouth-breathing neo-Neanderthals. But even the most kind-hearted among us has, at one point or another, bemoaned the inability of the thick-headed masses to comprehend our opinion.

The exception to this rule is when we find, to our surprise and joy and even alarm, that the majority concurs with us. Then we’re quick to say, “Hey, most people agree with me, so back off.”

The fact that we so easily fluctuate between praising and rejecting other people’s opinions should tell us something. But all it really does is entrench our positions. I’m as guilty of this as anyone.

The reason I bring all this up is because that infamous tool of totalitarianism – the public-opinion poll – shows that more Americans support Arizona’s new anti-immigration law than oppose it. In Arizona itself, the law is popular with an overwhelming 70 percent of the population.

Well, that should do it then. The law stands. The debate is over. We live in a country of majority rule, after all.

There’s just one problem: We don’t vote on rights.

Either Arizona’s law is unconstitutional or it’s not (frontrunners for its eventual overturning are the Fourth and Sixth Amendments). In either case, it’s not left to a popularity contest.

The truth is that America is more about minority rights than majority rule. I know I tread on dangerous ground when I invoke “the Founders,” but I will do so now. The framers of the Constitution were pretty damned touchy about the tyranny of the majority. That’s why they came up with that pesky Bill of Rights.

As such, we can’t just deny rights to groups we dislike, be they Latinos, gays, or Nickleback fans (actually, that last one may pass Constitutional muster). This concept seems difficult for Americans to understand. So let’s go with a historical example.

No doubt, in 1950, most Americans would have voted against letting black people enjoy the privileges that the majority culture enjoyed. Change came about not only because people got educated and the younger generation took control, but because of things like Brown vs. Board of Education. The Supreme Court, in what can only be called an activist decision, said that basic rights are not dependent upon the generosity of the majority.

Again, we don’t vote on rights.

But setting aside that basic concept, let’s look at the reliability and immutability of public opinion itself. Remember that on the eve of the Iraq War, polls showed that upwards of 80 percent of Americans supported George W. Bush’s policy of “regime change.” Somehow, I doubt that decision garners this kind of enthusiasm today.

That was way back in 2003. What will Americans of, say, 2017 think of our opinion?

The All-American Independence Day

In the park where we gathered each July 4 when I was a kid, my family was just one the groups who turned the area into a smaller, less-bloody reenactment of one of America’s numerous land rushes. Each clan’s blanket on the bumps and dips of the main lawn signified sovereignty, at least for the day. Grills were stoked and coolers were stocked, while people lounged in the sun and blared radios that were tuned to salsa or Sousa or “Casey Kasem’s Top Forty.”

Virtually everyone in the park was an immigrant or first-generation progeny – thousands of people in one place at one time to laud an adopted country. It was as if some immense Latino family reunion were taking place, cordoned off from the rest of the state. The newest arrivals celebrated America’s founding with the zealous belief that each subsequent generation could never appreciate the nation’s charms as much as they did.

Scores of teenagers huddled in packs organized by gender, scouting for patrols of the opposite sex. The adults were less mobile, and they laughed and ate and yelled, “Ai ya ya” after gulping what they promised would be their final Tecates of the afternoon.

Old men sat in lawn chairs between fluttering American flags and smaller, but still majestic, banners of Mexico or Puerto Rico. The men spoke about the United States with such fervor that it was as if they could account for all of the country’s previous 200+ birthdays.

Until dusk, kids ran around the park, gathering together at random to see things explode into bright shards. The powerful firecrackers we lit would horrify modern parents, but these were the days when infants bounced around in station wagons without car seats and teens went for afternoon-long bike rides (sans helmets) and children played king of the hill on mounds of rusty, jagged-edged trash in the local junkyard. By contemporary standards, it’s amazing that anyone came out of this era alive.

When the fireworks started, hundreds of children scrambled for their families’ blankets. The initial salvo was always a surprise, which was inexplicable in that it was the most eagerly anticipated sight of the weekend.

The fireworks popped off one at a time, with up to a minute between each burst. An explosion in one of a dozen different styles lit up the evening, and a second or two would pass before the boom thundered upon us.

One year, we brought our new cousins – all young children who had come from El Salvador – to see the fireworks. They either watched in stunned disbelief or cringed in outright terror. As we discovered later, putting on a pyrotechnics show for children who had escaped war and witnessed horrific firefights was not the sharpest move. It was, to be blunt, a fuck-up. We had to coax one of my cousins out from under a blanket. But by the second year, with their Americanization in full force, they cheered every supersonic outburst of color in the sky.

The finale was majestic, and as the final rumbling echo rained over us, flames in the shape of an American flag erupted over the water, and the audience cheered its birth.

The crowd stretched to its feet like a great cat awakening. The adults scooped up their blankets and coolers and backpacks. The colossal American flag smoldered in the pond, and the last cloud of smoke faded into the night.

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