How Do We Celebrate July Fourth When Everything Sucks?

American Democracy

Like many of you, I’m approaching the holiday weekend with a lot of questions on my mind.

Chief among them: Is there anything to actually celebrate this year?

We’re heading into a presidential election featuring two unpopular candidates with a combined age of 159. At this stage in the race, the favorite to win is Donald Trump: a convicted felon and vigorous liar with nakedly authoritarian ambitions. 

I won’t engage in false equivalencies: Joe Biden is none of the above. He is an earnest believer in democracy. But it will be incredibly difficult to combat vigorous lies with muttered truths. And it’s impossible to deny after last Thursday’s debate that our first octogenarian commander-in-chief is a clearly diminished man whose ability to actively defend our freedom is compromised. That has real and long-lasting implications for public faith in our leaders and institutions. We are all understandably alarmed by the extremism on our campuses, but imagine for a moment how warped an American college freshman’s perception of democracy and public service must be when they turned ten in 2016 and their first ballot will be cast in 2024—if they opt to vote at all. 

Add to this the Supreme Court’s disturbing decision on Monday, weakening the rule of law by granting the president immunity for “official acts” (for a more in-depth analysis of the decision, you can take a look at my friend Ben Wittes’ piece here). In short, nearly two-and-a-half centuries after our founders declared independence from a monarchy, our increasingly politicized high court has decided that the president should be more king-adjacent.

So I return to my original question: How do we celebrate the Fourth of July in 2024?

The answer is that we’ll celebrate our Independence Day just as previous generations of Americans did under trying circumstances—often more trying than our current impasse. We will mark July 4, 2024 as we did on July 4, 1964, when millions of black Americans were still disenfranchised, with many putting their lives on the line for the right to vote.

Or as we did on July 4, 1944, shortly after D-Day, when our troops were an ocean away, facing down the forces of tyranny. 

And like we did on July 4, 1864, at the height of the Civil War, when the nation was literally split in two and the enormous task of rebuilding lay ahead.

That is, with clarity about what we’re fighting for—not complacency about our situation.

With the grit required to preserve our freedom—not self-destructive despair.

And with context–both historical and global–as our guide—rather than willful, partisan ignorance.

These principles inform our work at the Renew Democracy Initiative. 

Maybe this Fourth of July is so jarring because we’ve come to associate our national independence too much with fireworks and barbecues and not enough with the serious work it takes to build and maintain a democracy. Look, don’t get me wrong: fireworks and barbecues are great! But the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were thinking of neither on that very first Fourth of July. They were too busy trying to keep their heads connected to the rest of their bodies after committing treason against the Crown!

This year, we’re acutely aware of what is at risk—and the stakes keep going up. But the fact is that democracy was never easy. Yet we overcame the odds—in 1964, in 1944, in 1864, and in 1776—not because the arc of history necessarily bends toward justice, but because individual people did the hard, often thankless, work necessary to will it toward justice. Brave dissidents in countries like Iran, China, and Russia are continuing that hard work for just a taste of what most Americans take for granted. We need to keep the torch lit for them too—the countless millions around the globe who look to us as the ultimate guarantors of the Free World.

We need to recall that spirit here in the United States. Right now, we are letting paralysis drive the outcome of a historic presidential election. We permit naysayers and obstructionists to delay our support to frontline democracies like Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. And we are allowing authoritarians abroad and wannabe authoritarians at home to dictate our public policy agenda. 

At the Renew Democracy Initiative, we are committed to revitalizing the survival instinct of a free people. Our present circumstances demand unprecedented action, and we must recognize that we are not powerless spectators; we have agency!

So this Fourth of July, let’s declare our independence from inertia. 

From doom scrolling. 

From throwing our hands up and saying “it is what it is.” 

We need you in this fight. Are you ready to take the initiative? Then I invite you to learn more about the Renew Democracy Initiative and to support our work.

Happy Independence Day,

Uriel Epshtein

CEO, Renew Democracy Initiative