Our family once had a blast setting off fireworks on the 4th of July. For the most part, they were the legal kind easily available here in Illinois. On several occasions, we also brought home louder, more dangerous fireworks from Indiana or Wisconsin.
The smell of fireworks smoke always lent a romantic feel to the 4th of July. It was also my late father-in-law’s birthday, so the grill would be smoking with red meat as well. Come evening, we’d sit on the front lawn facing the town of Addison and watch the big displays burst across the night sky.
Over the last ten years the 4th of July celebrations have dissipated a bit as our family spread out after the passing of my late wife and her dad. For a few years, we gathered to watch the city firework displays in Batavia, but coordinating everyone’s schedules became too much.
In the wake of this year’s annual fireworks orgy several new stories emerged that captured the conflicting nature of this country’s love affair with ballistics. A professional hockey goalie took an errant firework to the chest and died. Here in Illinois, the local news reported that another man died from fireworks injuries while another lost an eye. It’s hard to argue that fireworks (or guns for that matter) are “harmless fun” when people die and suffer life-altering injuries. Many Americans are in love with notions of ‘harmless fun’, yet in reality their actions cause genuine harm to themselves and others.
Not a fan of fireworks
I spent the twilight hours on the 4th of July holding our dog next to me in a blanket as she shivered with fright at the sound of fireworks large and small. She crept under the living room table for an hour or two after that, and when the neighbors started blasting firecrackers at 10 pm she ran upstairs to huddle in bed with my wife. Finally at 11 pm I coaxed her downstairs to sleep in her crate.
Dog-tired of the bluster
The 4th of July lost its luster for me over the last few years for other reasons as well. Watching the American flag turned into a symbol for neo-fascism by Trump supporters made the whole pro-American patriotism thing feel like a sham.
This morning I listened to an audio broadcast of the January 6, 2021 insurrection coaxed into being by the lies and fascist calls to action uttered by Trump leading up to the election and for weeks after he lost. The vision of those people bashing into the Capitol sent a clear message that there are people who really hate the best of what America has to offer. They’re a boiling group of spoiled, selfish people with a cult-like admiration for a proven fraud.
Their actions were not a sign of independence, but of fealty to a rabid authoritarian with an unapologetic selfish streak.
Riding and running through the holiday
My latent notions of carefree 4th of July holidays are gone for good, but my instincts for mind-clearing recreation still hold true. On the morning of the 4th, I got out for a road bike ride with some longtime friends. That got me thinking about past July 4ths and running road races. In particular I reminisced about the Firecracker 4 Mile in Glen Ellyn, circa 1984. I was supremely fit and ready to run. When the gun went off with a bang, another athlete and I engaged in an intense race and traded leads multiple times. The hilly course tested both our resolve, and local fans urged on their hometown hero, my prime competitor. And he won.
He passed me in the last 100 yards, but I was not disappointed with the outcome. I’d truly given it my all and was proud of the pace we’d achieved on such a tough course. I finished second at 20:01, a pace of 5:00 per mile.
Honest efforts teach us plenty
To me, there is a purity and honesty about such efforts that people who never test themselves and learn to accept the results can never know. Both winning and losing purify the soul. When I witness the bloated, angry, screaming faux-patriots attacking the Capitol I admit to feelings of disgust that these people somehow feel superior and entitled to complain that this country somehow mistreated them by conducting a fair election. They’re the kind of jerks who never admit that a contest of any kind is fair.
Muscle and brains
For years our park district softball team comprised of former college baseball players competed with a bunch of muscle-headed blowhards on a team known for screaming threats and intimidating umpires whenever they fell behind. They counted on muscle to win the day. But our hit-and-run team with a strong defense beat their home-run based offense every time. Once we’d thumped them during the first season, we beat them for eight seasons in a row. We had their number, and they knew it.Yet they kept on yelling because they could not stand the idea that their muscle was not superior to our more studious approach to the game. They viewed the results with suspicion because they couldn’t stand the idea that they somehow lost in a fair game.
That’s how I view many Trump supporters, whose loudest ranks constitute a bunch of denial-driven blowhards. For sure, there are honest, hard-working people who vote Republican no matter what. They may not like Trump, per se, but they defend what he delivered in the way of tax breaks or support for farmers and ranchers…even after blowing up their markets with brainless tariffs. None of Trump’s presidency really evidenced winning policies. It was largely Trump doing what Trump does: paying people off to support his notions of wealth and victory.
Yet the people who ardently support Trump demanded respect for self-righteous campaigns to overturn the election. They paraded around with Stop the Steal banners and gathered as a mob to lead an insurrection in a threat to overthrow the government. It was an attempted coup. After the reality of the situation was exposed, the domestic terrorists who were involved all rushed to wipe their social media of evidence of their crimes. Those indicted have tried to claim innocence after storming our nation’s Capitol building, destroying property, and threatening our government officials.
Worst of all, they cynically excuse their horrific actions by engaging in “Whataboutism” to point fingers at civil rights protests to bring attention to police violence and the continual deaths of Black citizens. The insurrection was a blatant attempt at covering the failure of their supposed hero, Donald Trump, who bragged about so much “winning” until he lost by seven million votes. Then he could not accept the reality that so many honest Americans rejected his dishonesty, his racist rhetoric, his incompetence in the face of a pandemic and his narcissistic attempt to steal an election by driving people into a brand of furious denial that led to violence, injury and death earlier this year.
Independence Day was once a sign that Americans value their freedoms and respect the processes and social order by which their values are installed. But no more. Donald Trump and his sycophantic followers claim patriotism while disrespecting everything the country ostensibly stands for.
They almost blew up the country in a fireworks accident of devastating proportion.