The Fourth of July 2019
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
On America’s Independence Day there were three interesting occurrences. One was purely symbolic but notable by its occurrence. Two were current and one was reflective.
As has been its tradition for 97 years, The New York Times printed on the back page of the first section of the paper, a copy of the original Declaration of Independence approved on July 4, 1776 –but actually only signed on August 2, 1776. The Times also printed a transcription of the original copy which it has been doing for last seven years. This is a tradition that even many visitors and former immigrants have noted.
Inside the paper, in honor of the Fourth of July, the Times printed a sample of ten questions from the pool of possible questions that immigrants to America must successfully answer as part of their citizenship examination prior to taking their citizenship oath to the United States. While history teachers and political science professors hopefully score above 90% on the test, the new immigrants need only to score 60%. Given the general historical illiteracy of so many figures in American public life from the President down, one wonders how many of these questions they would be able to answer correctly.
(It surely was not lost on many that the Times’ decision to publish these questions on July 4th was due in part to other factors. The general focus that has consumed the Trump White House concerning immigration, and especially all of the DACA immigrants. Many of whom, for example, already have completed their education in the U.S., but whose presence here is very much being questioned; despite the fact that many of them are already in the workplace—legally and illegally.)
This year’s celebration was also notable not only for beaches, barbecues and fireworks, but President Trump’s decision to refashion the Washington, D.C. July Fourth celebration into a Veterans Day/Memorial Day/Presidential Pep Rally. Whatever may be President Trump’s affection for the military and the pomp and circumstance of parades, much of what occurred at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday was totally out of character with the 4th of July Washington tradition. While the President’s speech appeared barely to stray from the prepared text and the contents of his remarks were delivered well, however, they were largely appropriate for a middle school history level text.
The tension that Trump’s show on the Mall invoked was it underscored the tension in America today. There are those—his followers–who continue to find Donald Trump to be a stirring figure who is returning the country to their image of a country that was. It is not conservatives versus liberals or Republicans versus Democrats. The Rally on the Mall accentuated once again the depth of polarization which the Trump years are inflicting on the country. Rather, President Trump presented an image of a leader who believes he can inspire the nation and the world, versus those who view him as the most divisive President in American history.