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On July Fourth, A Message For The Patriotic Resistance

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On July Fourth, A Message For The Patriotic Resistance

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On this Fourth of July, Americans live restlessly under a presidential administration hostile to the ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Most Americans despise the president — a blustering, feckless lout who ignores those documents as he undermines freedom of the press and the free exercise of religion. He has appointed a government of plutocrats, mostly mirroring his own unfitness for office, who appear determined to dismantle the institutions that have made this country humane, strong, prosperous, and respected. Along with his political associates and members of his family, he has encouraged and emboldened the very worst elements in American politics, including so-called white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and neo-Confederates, all echoing his promise to “Make America Great Again.”

They cannot make America great again. Anyone who has studied the past should know that those right-wing extremists, always insisting on their supreme patriotism, are traditional enemies of the nation they claim to love. When a demagogue like Trump wraps himself in the Stars and Stripes, he is defiling the flag and denying our history.

For decades right-wingers have sought to establish a near-monopoly on patriotic expression, all too often assisted by some on the left. But every July 4, I remind myself why that reactionary attitude is so ironic, and so fraudulent. Only our collective ignorance of our history could permit conservatives to assert an exclusive franchise on the flag, the Declaration of Independence, and the whole panoply of national symbols.

We need not imitate their style of politics to argue that liberals are just as entitled to a share of America’s heritage as conservatives — and much more entitled than Trump’s far right. To vindicate that claim, in honor of the national holiday, the place to begin is at the official beginning.

While “right” and “left” were not the terms of political combat in 18th-century America, there isn’t much doubt that behind the Revolution, and in particular the Declaration of Independence, were not only the members of a colonial elite, but a cabal of progressive radicals as well.

How otherwise to describe such revolutionary leaders as Thomas Paine and Samuel Adams, who declared their uncompromising contempt for monarchy and aristocracy? Their wealthier, more cautious colleagues in the Continental Congress regarded Adams as a reckless adventurer “of bankrupt fortune,” and Paine as a rabble-rousing scribbler (although George Washington, influenced by Paine, ordered Continental Army officers to read his eloquent American Crisis pamphets to the troops in 1776.) The kind of popular democracy promoted by Paine and Adams was a wildly radical doctrine in the colonial era, tamed in the writing of the Constitution by the new nation’s landed planters and slaveholders.

Pat Gallen reports on all of the 4th of July festivities.

The right-wingers of the Revolutionary era were Tories — colonists who remained loyal to the British crown, fearful of change and, in their assistance to the occupying army of George III, the precise opposite of patriots. Only after more than two centuries of ideological shift can the republican faith of the Founding Fathers be described as “conservative.”

The Civil War can be likewise framed as a struggle between left and right, between patriots and … well, in those days the leaders of the Confederacy were deemed traitors — and then permitted to escape punishment in the interest of national unity. . As libertarian columnist Steve Chapman notes, those nostalgic for the Lost Cause have never celebrated Independence Day with much enthusiasm. Academics may argue about that war’s economic origins, but there was a contemporary left-wing movement that sought to abolish slavery and preserve the Union, arrayed against a right-wing aristocracy that fought to preserve slavery and dissolve the Union.

Today, reverence for the Confederacy is an emotional touchstone among right-wing Southern politicians and intellectuals, as well as neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and other denizens of the “alt-right.” These fanatics hate Lincoln, father of the Republican Party, and wax nostalgic for the cultural heritage of the plantation.

At the risk of offending every furious diehard who still waves the Stars and Bars (usually while wearing a #MAGA cap), it is fair to ask what, exactly, is patriotic about all that?

Yet another inglorious episode preceded the global war against fascism. Long before Trump adopted “America First” to express his xenophobia and bigotry, it was a slogan mounted by Hitler’s witting and unwitting allies in the United States. Camouflaged in red, white and blue bunting, the America First movement proved to be a haven for foreign agents plotting against the United States. Perhaps it is again.

The overwhelming majority of conservatives honorably joined the war effort after Pearl Harbor. But the “Old Right” of Joe McCarthy and Pat Buchanan, the John Birch Society, and yes, the Koch brothers — can be traced to those prewar sympathizers of the Axis.

So when Trump and his far-right supporters swathe themselves in Old Glory, while committing yet another offense against the Constitution, remember: On this holiday, and every day, that flag and the promise it symbolizes are not theirs to abuse, but belong to a nation that will uphold and someday vindicate them. 

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Joe Conason

A highly experienced journalist, author and editor, Joe Conason is the editor-in-chief of The National Memo, founded in July 2011. He was formerly the executive editor of the New York Observer, where he wrote a popular political column for many years. His columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate and his reporting and writing have appeared in many publications around the world, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, and Harpers.

Since November 2006, he has served as editor of The Investigative Fund, a nonprofit journalism center, where he has assigned and edited dozens of award-winning articles and broadcasts. He is also the author of two New York Times bestselling books, The Hunting of the President (St. Martins Press, 2000) and Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (St. Martins Press, 2003).

Currently he is working on a new book about former President Bill Clinton's life and work since leaving the White House in 2001. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, and lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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40 Comments

    1. I know a joke July 3, 2017

      OK thanks for passing on your masters’ opinions, lickspittle.

    2. FireBaron July 4, 2017

      Hey, ‘Zilla, I have applied for a copyright on that image. Imagine this – every time you or one of your cronies attempt to use it and it appears, you will have to pay me a royalty. So if you post it on NM and 1000 people see it, you will owe me $0.01 for every view. Easy way for me to make $10 that I can contribute to Elizabeth Warren’s Presidential Campaign.

    3. Beethoven July 4, 2017

      Don’t forget to add this sign to every one of your posts, because it describes them perfectly.

    4. ray July 4, 2017

      I wish a you happy 4th to bad your to afraid to come out of your basement.

    5. Sand_Cat July 11, 2017

      Yes, that is an accurate description of both your current post and likely the primary content of your brain.

  1. Thoughtopsy July 3, 2017

    Just remember this:
    Trump is a Public Servant. Period. he serves at the pleasure of the People, to do the People’s business. He is not a King. He is not a god.

    I find this quote most appropriate:
    “The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.”
    – Theodore Roosevelt, Kansas City Star, May 7, 1918

    Reply
    1. sigrid28 July 4, 2017

      In honor of the holiday, I found myself feeling nostalgia for the elegance of the Obama presidency and his take on what it means for the president of the United States to be a public servant. So I went back to a photo I found on this website after Obama was elected for the second time and my comment on it: https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5fd97c7ef1290585074a966e3dc9c9864130e77c6913f0a660bf4b3f1bcbab6f.jpg
      To its credit, the staff of the National Memo has shared with us this superb AP photograph by Pablo Martinez Monsivais, capturing one of the iconic moments of Memorial Day 2013. In the foreground, we see staggered rows of headstones commemorating our war dead from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. I count thirty-one plinths, identical–excepting their inscriptions. Behind them, we see their families and loved ones, dressed as though they have come to picnic for the day (as many have), looking as they probably did in their daily lives when the men and women, now resting beneath these stones, once lived among them. In the story of this photograph, it seems as though the mourners have interrupted their day walking among these monuments and sitting beside the graves of their loved ones, to gather together, for a moment, a crowd of the living. We can see that the crowd may go on and on beyond the confines of the frame of the photograph, as do the rows of headstones. How plainly the photograph illustrates the divide that exists between the living and the dead, not as wide as we thought, not as small as we would like. We know these people, who resemble each of us in so many ways, have not gathered together to be in a photograph or to make a statement, because they have their backs to us and to the AP photographer. In the midst of this group, almost as an afterthought, I can barely make out Barack and Michelle Obama, just two among many. For the eternity of a snapshot, the moment equalizes yet transforms them all–moms and dads, Republicans and Democrats, presidents and first ladies, professional photographers as well as amateurs–from strangers belonging to all walks of life into citizens of the nation for which their sons and daughters gave the last measure of devotion, to paraphrase Lincoln, who is now also among them. As are we, when we look upon the everyday wonder of this tragic yet spectacular scene and commit it to memory.

  2. dtgraham July 4, 2017

    Happy birthday America. Have a good one before it’s renamed Trump Day next year. Independence will never be the same again.

    Reply
    1. Dapper Dan July 4, 2017

      Before that ever happens next year we’re going to have Dump Day when he’s removed from office for good

      1. dtgraham July 4, 2017

        Good one. Then again, knowing Trump, maybe he’ll rename it Amer-a-Lago Day.

        I wonder if a Declaration of Independence from Trump can be declared?

        1. Da FrogMeister July 4, 2017

          Yup, it’s called impeachment.

          1. dtgraham July 4, 2017

            Works for me. May come to that. If it doesn’t, Americans can always declare a Declaration of Independence from Trump in 3 years. Take heart.

          2. Sand_Cat July 11, 2017

            So long as the GOP controls the House, you can forget it. The “Freedom Caucus” probably has enough votesto impead it seriously, and I can’t see Ryan or any of the other idiots doing it, either.
            For a conviction, there would have to be a significant Democratic Majority in the Senate; the way things are going now, we’ll be lucky if we can get within 1 or 2 senators of a tie.

          1. Sand_Cat July 11, 2017

            OK, so what? Try making some sense.

          2. Dude who claims he’s a liberal has followed me around for four months calling me black, white, jewish, a “race pretender”, and a child molester.

            I’m not sure how much clearer I can make it but you do you.

          3. dtgraham July 12, 2017

            I have him blocked and don’t know what he said, but tomato brain making sense? You’ll wait forever for that.

          4. ^ this white guy calls people the N word

          5. also, holy crap you creeeeeeepy stalker – I got notified because someone replied to one of my week-old posts, but you’ve been sitting here hitting refresh all that time.

            racists are weird.

      2. Eleanore Whitaker July 5, 2017

        Wow…That’s cool! Dump Day…As the song goes, “They’ll be dancing in the streets. In Chicago, in New Orleans….they’ll be music, sweet music everywhere. They’ll be swinging and swayin’ and records playin’ and Dancin’ in the Streets.

        Trump is the one aberration the Founding Fathers knew would some day occur. It’s why they wrote the words of the Declaration of Independence in such articulation that there could be NO mistaking its meaning.

        When they wrote the Constitution, they first addressed “We the People” not the 1% or corporations. The second thing they addressed was legislation by Congress as appointed by the people. Not legislation by a Congress bought by billionaires.

        The Founding Fathers and James Madison addressed the checks and balances this government was intended to consist of in all 3 branches. Not an executive power writing executive orders as if they were some contract between billionaires.

        One of the very first and most telling things in Article II which outlines the duty of the president was treason as imposed in Section I. This is how important and how wise the Founding Fathers were about their knowledge of how some men will try to take over government. After all, they all came from a monarchy that was rife with men always trying to take down the government.

      3. Sand_Cat July 11, 2017

        Good luck with that.

    2. Independent1 July 4, 2017

      If you haven’t read it, Eugene Robinson wrote an excellent article that goes very well as an addendum to the article above that Joe wrote:

      Here are some excerpts from Eugene’s WaPo article:

      Our #FakeHero president is an insult to our Founders

      Some excerpts:

      The signers of the Declaration of Independence were highly imperfect men. Thomas Jefferson and his fellow Southerners were rank hypocrites for declaring “all men are created equal” while owning men, women and children as their slaves. John Adams was sour and disputatious, and later as president would sign the Sedition Act cracking down on criticism of the government. John Hancock was accused of amassing his fortune through smuggling. Benjamin Franklin could have been described as kind of a dirty old man.

      Yet they laid out a set of principles, later codified in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, that transcended their flaws. At this bizarre moment in our history, it is useful to remember that the ideas and institutions of the American experiment are much more powerful and enduring than the idiosyncrasies of our leaders. I call this moment bizarre for obvious reasons. As Thomas Paine would write in December 1776: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

      We have a president who neither understands nor respects the basic norms
      of American democracy. Make no mistake: Donald Trump is a true aberration. There is no figure like him in U.S. history, for which we should be thankful.

      For more on a very poignant and informative article, go here:

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/our-fakehero-president-is-an-insult-to-our-founders/2017/07/03/c0bc0402-6024-11e7-a4f7-af34fc1d9d39_story.html?utm_term=.65ebf128e393&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1

      1. dtgraham July 5, 2017

        Well said, independent. All men and women of history have been captured in the moment of their times, regardless of their other flaws and strengths. That a precious few in history rose far above it in their daily interactions is remarkable.

        For some of the others who at least aspired to that level, but didn’t quite make it in their personal lives, it’s no reason not to celebrate their aspirations. The latter still describes some of the best of us.

        Like one of the characters said in the movie, the Shawshank Redemption… “remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”

      2. TZToronto July 5, 2017

        Anyone becoming POTUS should know something about the fundamental documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. With knowledge of these documents, the POTUS should be wary of doing literally anything for fear of violating the spirit and letter of either one. Trump appears to feel that the DOI and the Constitution are niceties to be dispensed with, restrictions to be overcome. Rather than working within the confines of the law, Trump and his helpers first put forward the violations, then act surprised at being called on their unsupportable actions, then lash out at those who truly act to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. Once Trump’s usefulness to the GOP is finished, he’ll be called to account for his–and their–transgressions so that their next stooge can finish their reactionary takeover of the USA. There are NO patriots on the GOP side of the aisle in either House.

  3. FireBaron July 4, 2017

    A number of years ago when DC Comics ran their story arc about Lex Luthor becoming President, at least he observed the dignity of the office and gave lip service to the founding documents. Teflon Donnie has neither the dignity of the office nor the understanding of our founding documents and does not deserve his current job.

    Reply
    1. Dapper Dan July 4, 2017

      That reminds me of the series finale to Smallville. They did a jump in time to 2017 and America has Alex Luthor for its President. At least he didn’t have weird orange hair. In this case bald is beautiful

    2. yabbed July 4, 2017

      Trump is the Britney Spears of presidencies.

      1. dtgraham July 4, 2017

        Makes sense, yabbed. Thinking back to George W and then thinking about their vote for Trump, by now the average voter is probably saying to him/her self, “oops!…I did it again.”

        Really did it this time.

      2. Sand_Cat July 11, 2017

        Don’t insult Britney Spears. Whatever her faults, she doesn’t deserve that.

    3. Sand_Cat July 11, 2017

      Lex Luthor was an intelligent man, whatever his evil intent. The same cannot be said for Donnie.

  4. Pareto July 5, 2017

    If you know a Trump supporter in your personal life, just punch them in the face. Why haven’t you done it yet? Are you a coward? National Memo readers are not cowards and that means we’re not afraid to use violence to advance the ideals of social justice. The only way to deal with Trumpists and Trumpism is to use violence to shut them and it down. If you’re not ready to do that, you shouldn’t be reading the National Memo.

    Reply
    1. dtgraham July 5, 2017

      And you’re a right-wing troll who’s pretending not to be. Reply to tomato brain and get some pointers on the pretending thing. He’s the best.

  5. Eleanore Whitaker July 5, 2017

    The real timbre of Americans today is best seen when viewing the traditional Fourth of July celebration in DC.

    When you looked across the Capital mall, you saw Americans in a kind of unity that should strike fear in the hearts of those who believe it is their destiny to reinvent the U.S. Constitution by reinterpreting its meaning.

    You would have seen the military bands trying desperately to rally the crowds in traditional songs.

    What you wouldn’t have seen was any member of the Trump family daring to sit as the Obamas, both Bush families and the Reagans all did…in the front row.

    If there was anything to be learned from seeing this particular group of Americans celebrating the independence, the Constitution that granted freedom from tyranny, taxation without representation and men who seek glory without responsibility, it was the crowds holding each others’ hands while they sang “This is MY Country.”

    Reply
  6. TZToronto July 5, 2017

    Watched 1776 on TCM last night. Granted, it’s a dramatization of the Continental Congress that approved the Declaration of Independence, but the competing agendas of the various colonies are presented fairly accurately. There are the southern delegates who want to preserve slavery, the wealthy delegates who don’t want to risk their wealth by opposing the status quo, even when confronted with the tyranny of King George. John Adams, universally despised, at one point, loses the thread of his goal, independence above all, when he insists on retaining Jefferson’s anti-slavery clause, which almost derails independence. The prospect of hanging should independence fail is an ever-present reality, but the patriots who worked for independence saw the higher cause and accepted their fate as a probable price of freedom from a tyrant. Where are today’s patriots? Certainly not in Congress or among Trump’s apologists.

    Reply

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