My enthusiasm for the Fourth of July has inexplicably dimmed this year

I don’t understand it. My patriotic ardor has been cooling for decades, but this year, it’s in the deep freeze. For inspiration, I turn to the American Enterprise Institute (it’s got “American” in the name, so it must be good). Unfortunately, this doesn’t help.

It links to an essay praising Calvin Coolidge and the divinity of our nation’s founding, and it’s about as dishonest as you’d expect from an anti-science far right wing capitalist propaganda organization.

History is replete with the births (and deaths) of nations. But the birth of the United States was unique because it was, and remains, a nation founded not on ties of blood,

Except the blood of the exterminated native peoples of the continent.


Have we all forgotten manifest destiny and westward expansion? Vast tracts of land bought from the French and Mexico? Wars to define borders?

or ethnicity,

As long as your ethnicity is white, and even within ‘whiteness’ we have gradations. Anglo-saxons are privileged over Irish and Italians.

but on ideas, held as self-evident truths: that all men are created equal;

Except the dark-skinned ones, who are less equal and justifiably enslaved. Oh, right: slaves weren’t men, they were property.

they are endowed with certain inalienable rights;

At the time of the revolution, women weren’t even considered entitled to vote, and it was seriously contemplated to restrict those rights to white men of property.

and, therefore, the just powers of government, devised to safeguard those rights, must be derived from the consent of the governed.

Lovely sentiment to express now as the police hold a gun to the heads of all citizens, but especially the brown ones. Does consent flow from the muzzle of a gun?

It gets worse. America is a Christian nation.

What is the source of these ideas, and their singular combination in the Declaration? Many have credited European thinkers, both British and French. Coolidge, citing 17th- and 18th-century sermons and writings of colonial clergy, provides ample evidence that the principles of the Declaration, and especially equality, are of American cultural and religious provenance: “They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit.” From this teaching flowed the emerging American rejection of monarchy and our bold embrace of democratic self-government.

The fatherhood of god is why, in the antebellum US, Christian ministers could argue for slavery, and how the founding of the country could be built on the bedrock of denying the humanity of those who labored for the Southern aristocracy.

The parties in this conflict are not merely Aboli­tionists and Slaveholders; they are Atheists, Socialists, Communists, Red Republicans, Jacobins on the one side, and the friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is the battle ground, Christianity and Atheism the combatants, and the progress of humanity the stake.

Put me on the side of the Atheists, Socialists, Communists, Red Republicans, and Jacobins, and fuck the AEI and everything they stand for.

My patriotism might be partially restored if we could acknowledge our history of wrongs and work towards addressing them, but that is not this America. This country has also taken a big step backwards with its embrace of plutocrats, fascists, racists, and misogynists, or, as we call them for short, Republicans.

No celebrations for me today.


  1. rietpluim says

    It would be nice for a change when conservatives started to live up to the values they pretend to endorse.

  2. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Well… I think it was founded (conceptually), on ideas. Unfortunately, it was physically established by bloodshed and oppression.
    Amusing, to anyone minutia oriented, that Independence was declared on the 2nd and not fully signed until the 5th or so. July 4th was written on the document so we settled on that as the anniversary date.

  3. says

    I understand your feeling of ‘meh’ about patriotism, I feel it, too. I am somewhat anchored in the idea that the US Constitution was adopted in order “to form a more perfect union.” We aren’t there yet–perfection, that is. But we are getting better in many regards. We keep getting new challenges with each generation that fight against achieving that perfection, challenges which are the garb that greed, exploitation, self-interest and knavery wear. Partly the human condition, partly social and political perversion. Politcs has never been a spectator sport, though. Scientists, even the curmudgeonly ones, are needed to add to the efforts to form the more perfect union. I am glad we seem to be on the same team.

  4. Siobhan says

    The birth of the United States was unique because it was a nation founded not on blood or ethnicity, but on ideas.

    Let’s just ignore the part where the ideas in question were deeply concerned with both blood and ethnicity.

    Man, it must be nice living in the anti-reality conservative bubble.

  5. Infophile says

    @2 slithey tove

    As I understand it, the final signatures actually had to be mailed in, and some didn’t even arrive until the following year. So if we care about the date it was fully signed, not only is the date wrong, but the entire year is wrong.

    Of course, this wasn’t even the date America as we understand it was created. That’s either September 5, 1774 if you count the Continental Congress, March 1, 1781 if you count the Articles of Confederation, or March 4, 1789 if you count the modern Constitution. Given that it was a messy, gradual process anyway, it’s all just about having a symbolic date in the end, I suppose.

  6. Arnaud says

    The birth of the United States was unique because it was a nation founded not on blood or ethnicity, but on ideas.

    Unique? Bullshit, Israel was founded on ideas, modern France (post 1789) was founded on ideas. The Soviet Union, ever heard of it? Italy, Greece even, to only speak of the west? What about the post British and French Empire nations across Africa and Asia? What about the Belgian Congo? (Hey, they didn’t say it had to be good ideas!)
    For a variety of reasons it can be argued that the advent of the United States was ultimately inevitable. Ideals imported from the mother continent shaped the new country’s form and politics but they were certainly not the main driving force.

  7. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 7:
    suddenly occured to me the pun:
    march fourth be with you!

  8. says

    I always get a kick out of claims that democracy owes its existence to Christianity. The timeline is rather telling:

    ~1 A.D. Christ is (purportedly) born, later crucified.

    380 A.D. Christianity becomes official religion of the Roman Empire.

    ~900 A.D. Nearly all of Europe Christianized.

    900-1750 A.D. Stuff happens.

    1776 A.D. United States founded.

    Hard to argue with that.

  9. says

    I am somewhat anchored in the idea that the US Constitution was adopted in order “to form a more perfect union.”

    That, or it was a power-sharing arrangement among oligarchs, who wanted to create a country in which none of them could be dispossessed of the slaves that made their comfortable lives possible.

  10. colinday says

    Does this person even deign to talk to Ayaan Hirsi Ali in the hallway? Also, what if Christianity is metaphysically wrong? Should we still base our politics on it?

  11. Pierce R. Butler says

    Infophile @ # 5: …it’s all just about having a symbolic date in the end, I suppose.

    The curious fact that 2nd president John Adams & 3rd president Thomas Jefferson both happened to die on July 4, 1826 helped nail down 7/4 as Day One.

    One of the hardest-core lefties I know insists we should co-opt the date as “Revolution Day”, but he celebrates with explosions and alcohol just like the American Legion guys do.

  12. monad says

    @9 Area Man: Not to mention all the BCE democracies like Athens. Yes, there are a lot of limitations to those that would make them only very partially democratic; they have very restricted suffrage, not to mention things like slavery. But if you’re going to count the USA of 1776 those apparently aren’t disqualifications.

  13. says

    I think 241 years is long enough for your little tantrum to have gone on, and just look what you’ve done with your independence.

    It’s time to admit that the American War of Rebellion was a horrid mistake and to come back to the open arms of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. We of the Commonwealth will welcome you.

  14. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re myself@7:
    error correction failed me. I’m actually in the 9/17/87 camp.
    On September 17, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention met for the last time to sign the Constitution. = the ACTUAL birth of the USA.
    Delivery was from 7/4/76 to 9/17/87

  15. Steve Caldwell says

    One should not look at the United State through a lens of American exceptionalism.

    The United States isn’t exceptionally good or exceptionally bad. Like many other nations, our history is a mixed bag where done good and evil.

    Patriotism should not be an uncritical worship of one’s nation. Ideally, it should be a relationship where we strive to make our nation better. And that too is a messy and complex thing because we don’t always agree on what is better.

  16. Sonja says

    The founding principle of equality is still a good principle, even if not achieved. What brought down Jim Crow in the South was Brown vs. Board of Education, using the Equal Protection clause of the 14th amendment, passed after the end of the Civil War, but codifying the idea that all men are created equal from the Declaration of Independence. If this had been legally followed and enforced, there were a couple of states in the South that had majority black populations and things could have been very different. But people and greed failed these ideals, the law, and the Constitution. Gay marriage was legalised using the Equal Protection, as well as Due Process clauses. Even the notion of equality is rare in human civilization, but this radical idea was big at the time of the Founders who were reading Enlightenment thinkers. The idea of freedom of religion and separation of church and state are still the best solutions humans have come up with to deal with religious conflict, and still not widely adopted in the world. We should be careful not to conflate the principles with the idiots who fail them.

  17. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 12:
    “we should co-opt the date as “Revolution Day”, [and] celebrate with explosions and alcohol”

    actually makes far more sense.
    Especially the explosions to indicate the START of the “rebellion”, when it seems most think it is the celebration of achieving Independence.
    Declaring independence is not quite the same as Achieving it.

  18. says

    Sonja @ 18:

    Even the notion of equality is rare in human civilization, but this radical idea was big at the time of the Founders who were reading Enlightenment thinkers.

    What a load of fucking bullshit. The uStates government was founded on some of the principles of The Haudenosaunee Confederation, and their council for peace. They are the ones who came up with workable concepts and ideas for stopping wars and brokering peace, with rule based on equality and fairness. Your fucking “enlightenment thinkers” happily stole all that, then went right back to attempting to complete their genocide of all Indigenous peoples.

    Members of the Haudenosaunee Confederation were present at discussions involving the constitution and the bill of rights. They were surprised it was all white men, no women. They thought it was pretty damn stupid of them to omit the thoughts and ideas of their women, but the “founding fathers” had no use for women as people. People are always happy to yak away in ignorance over the “founding fathers”, or to speak about their rotten to the core involvement with slavery, but there’s little to no talk at all about the genocide which allowed the “founding” of an already long occupied country, the ongoing effects of that genocide, how Indians are still treated by white people and the uStates government, which owes everything to the people they tried so hard to decimate.

    Very light reading: One, Two.

  19. blf says

    celebrate with explosions and alcohol

    I expect most of the recipients of the resulting Darwin Awards would not appreciate the improvements.

  20. says

    Caine @20

    I remember a while back in either Pharyngula’s or Ed Brayton’s comments (that should tell you about how far back) I made a comment about the American Founding Fathers being “just men”. Oh, did one or two people not like that. Somehow I was supposed to accept that those slave-owners who neglected to give women a voice were Great Men with no flaws or whose flaws could be ignored in favour of their Greatness.

  21. secondtofirstworld says

    @Steve Caldwell #17: Actually, you talk about nationalism. That is the uncritical notion, that one’s own is the best, whereas patriotism is actually just that, being proud for belonging to somewhere without feeling or acting superior about it.

    It wouldn’t be America, if it weren’t meant differently, like liberal, poor White or inner city, not to mention the total blackout on what socialism is. Recently, thanks to the surge of the far right, even newer spins are being introduced, like radical centrist (whoever thought that is unaware that radical is the antithesis of being a centrist), or my personal favorite, the real liberal who hates progressives, which is as true as fascists being merely real socialists.

    Other cancers are the “America is a republic, not a democracy” and “the Founding Fathers put no limitations on liberty”. It is astonishing how many people seem to receive no civic studies, sleep in class or lie about what it was and how it was meant.

  22. Sonja says

    @Caine #20
    Please don’t make any assumptions about what I know or do not know (I only wrote a few sentences and I do have a degree in this subject).

    Your fucking “enlightenment thinkers” happily stole all that, then went right back to attempting to complete their genocide of all Indigenous peoples.

    Like it or not, the Founders were reading Enlightenment writing. It’s a well-documented fact. And sorry, your dates don’t quite work out. John Locke, one of Thomas Jefferson’s biggest influences for the principles in the Declaration of Independence died in 1704. The links you included don’t provide any evidence that thinkers such as Locke were influenced by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. There is some evidence that the Founders were so influenced.

    The gist of your comment are in agreement with the point of my comment. The principle of equality is good, but not achieved.

  23. hemidactylus says

    #27- ebotebo

    No they are the Elect who enjoy the benefits of God’s favor (obviously). We the dregs are Reprobates. Sure some of us were deluded enough to vote them in repeatedly against our best interests. But we at least have the carrot stick of bootstrapped upward mobility as a “dream” even if our reality is more convergent upon the Dalits of a parallel rigid social system where karma replaces divine favor. The dregs get our just deserts either way. Amor fati.

  24. anchor says

    “My patriotic ardor has been cooling for decades, but this year, it’s in the deep freeze.”

    I don’t blame you. I never liked “Celebrate With Bombs Day” either.

    In fact, I can’t remember ever not hating it.

    When I want to see pretty lights and displays in the sky, I prefer a star-filled vault bisected by our home Milky Way galaxy, writhing aurora, the punctuating slash of meteors, the stately progress of the phases of the Moon and dancing of the planets, the incredible mindfuck of clouds and their aptitude for literally electrifying storms, and a host of other natural majesties.

    Then this day shows up, people fire off cylinders filled with flammable materials that pop and they OOOOOH and AAAAAH at the pathetic contrivance.

    As my shaking dogs try to crawl into my clothes with a serious danger of succumbing to heart attacks.

    Meanwhile, [most] everybody ignores that the shit that’s blown into the air and falls out to the ground and waterways for the sake of tradition is composed of seriously toxic chemicals and metals that harm the environment and health of any critter that is dumb enough to expose themselves to it by having the unmitigated audacity to breathe air or drink water.

    Not to mention injury and mayhem from what are deemed “accidents”.

    As a significant economic player reaching well into the stratospheric $billions annually, fireworks/solid rocket motor/military ordinance industries – from mom-and-pop shops making trifles that amount to party favors to relatively small rocket-propelled explosive devices – to aerospace corporations that specialize in manufacturing BIG fucking bottle rockets in the form of solid rocket boosters for almost every major rocket manufacturer (except, notably, Elon Musk’s Space X) that, with every flight with typical configurations, can disgorge hundreds of tons of various reaction products of rubberized compounds, aluminum and other metallic oxides long well established to have a serious impact on the environment (nasty endocrine problems, not to mention ghastly mutagenic outcomes like two-headed frogs) – to the manufacture of the vast array of ordinance to satiate the military appetite…

    Of course, America has no monopoly on the madness. No-siree! People EVERYWHERE love to play with fire and things that go pop with pretty sparkling lights! Examples of the tendency to utilize fireworks in order to celebrate some occasion connected with some cultural tradition as a matter of identity expression are numberless. Far too numerous to even begin to point out here.

    It’s only slightly easier to point out the many disasters that occur annually due to everything from individual misuse (say, fingers blown off) to unspeakable conflagrations that roast hundreds of people alive…just because this shit must necessarily be concentrated in any putative marketplace for people to acquire it ‘efficiently’. Even musical bands are fond of incinerating their entire audience with a spectacular exhibition of their musicality, albeit with an unexpected or unscripted finale.

    And I haven’t even touched on the problems associated with the industrial/manufacturing processes involved, let alone the inevitable stockpiling and transportation issues…

    So, besides gratifying the ‘blowed-up and goed boom big’ mentality, these considerations enlarges the “Celebrate With Bombs Day” to a global epidemic: anywhere in the world this idiocy is practiced is perforce: A Celebration of Pollution, Disease and Catastrophic Death by Roasting, Disfigurement, and Dismemberment by Shockwave and Shrapnel.


  25. Saad says

    Sonja, #18

    The founders didn’t have equality in mind. They left out people of color and women. Also the slaves thing kinda goes against equality.

    Oh, and they were taking over other people’s land.

  26. hemidactylus says

    #29- anchor said:
    “As my shaking dogs try to crawl into my clothes with a serious danger of succumbing to heart attacks.”

    Fireworks aren’t very neighborly. They wind up on my roof and in my yard but the worst consequence is the horror my dog faces several times a year and I feel helpless trying to console and detraumatize her. In her old age she seems to have adopted a stance of resignation toward such things, but that still takes several loud mortar explosions before she gives up the bark. Uh she’s growling at drunken patriotic dipshit noises right now. Time to try my best.

  27. Saad says

    Sonja, #18

    codifying the idea that all men are created equal from the Declaration of Independence

    Let’s check the source then:

    [George III] has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

    Wow. Amazing equality. Much principles.

    The founding principle of equality is still a good principle, even if not achieved.

    You say “not achieved” as if they intended equality but fell short of the mark despite trying.

  28. Sonja says

    @Saad #32
    So do you think equality is a good principle? Where and when did the concept originate? What is its history? What part of “equality is not achieved” do you not understand?

    America has been at war with itself from its conception, culminating in the Civil War, followed by Jim Crow, and following WWII, a war within the Democratic Party. PZ, have you read Hubert H. Humphrey’s speech on civil rights, delivered at the 1947 DNC? That same fucker you have argued with for decades, Dinesh D’Souza, is going around to college campuses, giving an alt-right re-writing of history where the only Democrats in the Democratic Party after WWII are the Southern racist Dixiecrats. He conveniently leaves out our Minnesotan Senator.

    To understand this internal war in the 20th century, please read Brad Delong’s post on the why the economic populist Democrats in the South were defeated by the racists, now the mainstream Republican Party.

  29. Sonja says

    Sorry, 1948:

    Speaking of the founder of our party, Thomas Jefferson, he said:

    “He did not proclaim that all white, or black, or red, or yellow men are equal; that all Christian or Jewish men are equal; that all Protestant and Catholic men are equal; that all rich or poor men are equal; that all good or bad men are equal.

    “What he declared was, that all men are equal; and the equality which he proclaimed was equality in the right to enjoy the blessings of free government in which they may participate and to which they have given their consent.”

    There are those who say to you – we are rushing this issue of civil rights. I say we are 172 years late.

    There are those who say – this issue of civil rights is an infringement on states rights. The time has arrived for the Democratic party to get out of the shadow of state’s rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.

    People – human beings – this is the issue of the 20th century. People – all kinds and sorts of people – look to America for leadership – for help – for guidance.

    For all of us here, for the millions who have sent us, for the whole two billion members of the human family – our land is now, more than ever, the last best hope on earth. I know that we can – I know that we shall – begin here the fuller and richer realization of that hope – that promise of a land where all men are free and equal, and each man uses his freedom and equality wisely and well.

    Hubert H. Humphrey

  30. mnb0 says

    Join the club, PZ – I haven’t celebrated Queen’s Day/King’s Day since 40 years or so (I’m Dutch).

  31. unclefrogy says

    thanks for posting the transcript @34
    reminding us that there have been others like Dean and Bernie who came close, that really wanted to shake up the status quo but were resisted by the fearful.
    The revolution was not finished with the Declaration and a more perfect union has not been achieved yet. Maybe some day we will have earned the ideals of Frederick Douglass.
    uncle frogy

  32. Sonja says

    In short, if you love Trump, and hate the press, gays, muslims, feminists, and brown people, you should move to Russia, where Putin shares your values.

  33. Saad says

    Sonja, #33

    So do you think equality is a good principle?

    Do you genuinely think the argument here is whether I think equality is a good principle?

    My point is the Founders didn’t want equality. The Founding documents aren’t about equality. Thomas Jefferson didn’t want or care for equality. Those points aren’t even debatable.

    Where and when did the concept [of equality] originate?

    That’s a silly question. It probably originated all over the world at many different times at different levels of selectiveness (for men only, for white men only, for white people only, for rich people only, etc).

  34. rjw1 says

    Saad @38

    Yes, the US was founded as a slave-owning oligarchic republic, not a democracy.
    It’s not an exemplar for other nations, as many Americans seem to think.

  35. says

    On that basis the American Revolution and the War of Independence didn’t happen. Instead the British quietly packed up, shook hands, said “its all yours” and sailed back to where they came from.

  36. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Oh say does that blood-drenched doll’r sign banner yet wave
    O’er the land of the thieves and the home of the slaves?