American Culture

Independence Day, a baseball game, and fireworks in the age of Donald Trump

I wanted to enjoy the Colorado Rockies game and fireworks on Independence Day, but in the age of Donald, I got cognitive dissonance instead.

Independence Day was uncomfortable this year. I was sitting at a Colorado Rockies game with my family and brother-in-law during the seventh inning stretch when a US Army soloist sang God Bless America. While I ultimately decided to stand in order to honor the soldier singing it, as I stood there I had a very uncomfortable realization. I realized that I’d heard Coors Field honor the US armed forces at least four other times over the course of the game. Something felt wrong about that somehow.

And then, during the post-game fireworks, I found myself feeling like the fireworks set to song were less a patriotic celebration of our Independence Day and more a nationalistic or even jingoistic catharsis.

Independence Day is the day the colonies declared our independence from Britain. In many ways it signifies the birth of the United States of America (the crafting of the Constitution in 1789 would be the other defining moment). Clearly, our independence was won by force of arms during the Revolutionary War, so honoring our military and singing patriotic songs is hardly out of place for the holiday. But there was something different this time. I’ve been thinking about this ever since, and I think I’ve figured out what was different this year: me.

Last year I also spent Independence Day with a baseball game and fireworks. I’m guessing that Fenway Park honored just as many servicemen and women as Coors Field did this year. And I was wowed by the most amazing fireworks spectacle I’d ever seen, performed over the Charles River while the Boston Pops Orchestra played live before half a million people on both sides of the river.

But last year we had a President who was a fundamentally decent, intelligent, and thoughtful man and who had run the country for seven years with compassion, care, and grace in the face of unrelenting racism and hostility. He didn’t always do things that I liked or approved of (and I say that as a liberal significantly left of Barack Obama’s own center-right policies and views), but after eight years of mismanagement under George W. Bush, Obama was a breath of fresh air. On Independence Day last year I still felt hopeful about the next four years.

This year, however, we have a president who bragged about getting away with sexual assault. Who mocks the disabled. Who is neither decent nor intelligent nor thoughtful. Whose first six months running the United States has shown no compassion for the people, no care for the country, and for whom grace is an alien concept. This year we have someone who isn’t merely mismanaging the country, but rather someone who is actively trying to destroy it, and who may well succeed.

More than that, we have a country where tens of millions of my fellow citizens voted for a racist, sexist, Islamophobic, homophobic, anti-intellectual, nativist, hypocritical, lying, narcissistic, authoritarian adulterer and serial sexual predator. A country where someone with all those character flaws, any of which should have been disqualifying, was considered preferable to the woman in the race who, according to any rational standard, was far more capable, ethical, and moral than the man who won (and I say that as a liberal significantly left of Hillary Clinton’s own center-right policies and views).

So there I was yesterday, sitting in a ballpark surrounded by people who were paying tribute to a vision of America that only an accidental resemblance to the America I thought I knew. Or paying tribute to an America that tens of millions of voters had shit on eight months earlier. And I couldn’t even talk about this with my wife, sitting next to me, lest we anger a pro-Donald lunatic somewhere in earshot and endanger our kids blissfully enjoying the fireworks.

There was a point, not all that long ago, when I could watch fireworks on Independence Day and not feel like this. I remain hopeful that, with non-stop effort against Donald, we’ll make it through the next few years with our enough of our national institutions intact and functional that we can rebuild America into something I can be proud of again.

And while I’ll never sing along to God Bless America, maybe there will come a point when cognitive dissonance doesn’t make me embarrassed to honor a soldier whose sacrifice helps secure the freedoms I hope I continue to enjoy.