What I’m Celebrating This Independence Day

An NRO Symposium
Reasons to be grateful on America’s birthday

In honor of Independence Day, National Review Online asked friends and family why and what they are expressing gratitude for this 4th of July:

Charles Donovan

The first thought that springs to mind this July 4th is whether any celebration must be grudging. We live in strange times that daily grow stranger still. The relentless campaign to supplant the principles of a free republic with the promises of omnipresent government shows little sign of abating. The circus parade of human life, complete with bearded ladies and bloodied gladiators, intensifies. The brutal Circus Maximus is still in business, with regular performances in Sudan, Nigeria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Civilization seems not on the march, but on the run.

What, then, to celebrate? If nothing else, the knowledge that we live, as always, in consequential times. Moreover, we live at a time of close contests of profound consequence. In the last year alone, our highest court has delivered a sharp rebuff to natural marriage and a narrow victory for religious liberty. Both votes were 5–4. Polls continue to show Americans almost evenly divided, and not necessarily along partisan lines, on numerous value questions, including essentially moral questions in economics and foreign policy. The answer to the eternal question — what difference can one person make? — is clear.  Every one of us — every patriot voice, every prayerful deed — is indispensable. And that is cause for celebration on this fourth.

— Chuck Donovan is president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute.
 

Matthew J. Franck

What’s worth celebrating on Independence Day? Of course it is the bequest of a free country, handed down by our mothers and fathers. But what do we mean by a free country? Among other things, the freedom to ignore politics altogether, and to live one’s life without paying the slightest heed to what’s happening in the nation’s capital, perhaps informing oneself just enough every two years or four years to cast an intelligent vote in an election. This may seem an odd thing for someone to say who has spent his adult life in the study of politics, and who writes about practically nothing else. But any country in which one is compelled by necessity to take an intense interest in politics is a country where freedom is in trouble — lost or under threat of being lost. This is one reason to oppose our contemporary progressives, who will not be content until everything personal is political and the state has absorbed civil society.

In 1780, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail from Paris, where he was posted as a diplomat during the Revolution. He addressed her fondly as “Portia,” showing where his own interests lay, could he but act on them. But these were revolutionary times, and so he noted:

I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.

Adams understood that political freedom must be understood to include a freedom from politics, if that is how one wishes to live. So on Independence Day, feel free to celebrate America by ignoring Washington.

— Matthew J. Franck is Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey
 

David Gelernter

That the failed Obama revolution should be culminating in naked insanity on the left seems bad and is certainly sad. But Obamacrats have revealed a precious truth about themselves: They despise the Constitution and don’t begin to understand it. They meet quiet doubts about man-made climate change with mouth-foaming pit-bull fury — I have seen it. Mrs. Clinton shows her special contempt for women by mentioning the question of who pays for abortion-inducing pills in the U.S. in the same breath that she condemns the rape, enslavement, and murder of girls elsewhere. One suffering peasant woman is pretty much just like another.

Yet Obamacrats are not insane! They have merely found religion at last. Conservatives are far more likely than progressives to be practicing Jews or Christians. Yet everyone needs religion; and the crazy asymmetry of today’s politics (where is the Howard Baker, the John McCain among today’s Democrats?) shows that progressivism has risen off the launchpad of lunacy into the sphere of religion. Its settled dogmas and fanatic believers show it to be a new paganism.

Is that good? Yes: As these facts leak out, the supposedly unbeatable Obamacrat coalition dies. Hispanics will choose Christianity over paganism when it comes to that. Many blacks will, too. And many white Catholics and some union members. The more the frustrated Obamacrats talk, the plainer they make their new-old dogma of nature-worship, health-and-body worship, power-worship — and their casual hatred of biblical religion. But this is still America the Biblical Republic, where paganism is still (thank God) a hard sell. Happy Fourth!

— David Gelernter is a professor at Yale, author of Americanism and forthcoming Mind from Inside.

Victor Davis Hanson

This weekend I thank our ancestors for our liberty, hard won and constantly under assault both abroad and at home. Ours is a liberty not to be told how to think or where to live or what to do or what is officially correct or incorrect to write or speak. American liberty is not license to satisfy the appetites to excess, but a respect for an individual’s choices that assumes citizens can make good decisions for themselves and for the nation at large without government coercion. This time around, the threat to our generation’s freedoms will probably not come from the easily identified thug in jackboots, or from the corner demagogue with armbands and a bullhorn. It will probably be more insidious and mellifluous — a constant siren song of sacrificing our options and choices for the collective goal of race, class, and gender-mandated equality. Or perhaps it will be a sort of ecological straightjacket in which elite technocrats, properly certified from the Ivy League and always proclaiming needed sacrifices for the greater good, will usher us into their idea of egalitarian and green houses, green energy for all, green transportation among equals, green fair commerce — properly overseen by themselves. They, of course, are exempt from the consequences of their ideology, and they alone will define what “greenr and “fair” actually are. I fear liberty will be lost not with a bang but with a whimper.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals.
 

Hugh Hewitt

The rising tide of veteran leaders, such as Representatives Tom Cotton, Mike Pompeo, and Ron DeSantis, and, of course, Tammy Baldwin on the Democratic side, bring knowledge of freedom’s real costs to the halls of Congress. The number of this group should and will swell as the next few years go by and the veterans of the last dozen years of war organize and elevate their best. This will be terrific for the country — and the world. 

— Hugh Hewitt is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, a professor of law at the Fowler School of Law at Chapman University and a partner in the Los Angeles office of a national law firm. He can be followed on Twitter.
 

Kathryn Jean Lopez

All around the country, people still sacrifice, they still work hard, they still serve their neighbor in material and spiritual need. Whatever chaos the current day’s culture and politics may look like — and very much be — it’s those loving foot soldiers of civil society who do the daily renewal of our nation’s soul. For as long as there are men and women who care to exercise their freedom of religion in loving service of God — seeing Him in the dignity of each man and women on this earth — and for as long as citizens see themselves as such, and participate and work for something better, this experiment lives on and has a fighting chance.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online, and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She’s @KathrynLopez on Twitter.
 

Jordan Lorence

This Fourth of July, I will rejoice over a successful year protecting religious liberty and freedom of speech at the Supreme Court. Alliance Defending Freedom, where I work, partnered with other allies to win a number of important Supreme Court victories this term. The Court rejected a harsh, extreme understanding of the Establishment Clause to permit the Town Council of Greece, New York, to open their meetings with prayers by local clergy (so they can thank our Creator for endowing us with certain inalienable rights, as we celebrate on Independence Day). The Court protected the pro-life religious convictions of the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties from the overreaching burdens of the HHS abortion-pill mandate. Massachusetts can no longer block pro-life sidewalk counselors from talking to women going to abortion facilities. The Susan B. Anthony List can now challenge Ohio’s law that allows politicians to silence campaign opponents by accusing them of “false statements.” And the Court granted review July 1 on another ADF case, challenging a Gilbert, Arizona, ordinance ordering churches to use smaller temporary signs than those the law allows for political campaigns and real-estate sales. A great year for liberty. 

— Jordan Lorence is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which works to protect religious liberty, life, and marriage.

John Pitney

Three days after 9/11, I attended an interdenominational prayer service on campus. An ROTC color guard, including a couple of my own students, presented the American flag. Seeing my students in uniform, I realized that they would soon be Army officers, probably in harm’s way. From that moment, I never again thought of them as “kids.”

Both of them had tours of duty in Iraq. In the years to follow, a number of other students went on to serve there and in Afghanistan, both in the military and in our civilian intelligence services. Happily, they all came back alive. This Independence Day, I’m celebrating their service and saying a prayer of gratitude for their safe return.

— John J. Pitney Jr. is the Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College and coauthor of After Hope and Change: The 2012 Elections and American Politics.
 

Julie Shaw

This Independence Day, I’ll celebrate how great it is to live in a country dedicated to the self-evident truths of human equality and natural rights. These truths are especially important to women.

These days, we are inundated with rhetoric about how bad it is to be a woman in America. The mischaracterization of the Hobby Lobby decision is the most recent example of the supposed systematic disregard for women. This rhetoric assumes that America is unjust for women and our only hope for equality or rights lies in certain government benefits.

Yet, every year, Americans celebrate the very document that undermines this toxic rhetoric. The Declaration of Independence articulates America’s foundational principles — namely, the self-evident truths of human equality and unalienable natural rights. These principles apply to women and men alike. Too often modern readers are hung up on Jefferson’s poetic “All men are created equal” to see that he was articulating a truth about all persons, not simply males.

America’s principles are self-evident but not self-executing. Over the past 200-plus years, we have explored the implications of these principles. Women’s lives have changed accordingly. We can now pursue happiness in full-time careers or as full-time wives and mothers. Women’s flourishing is not a result of overcoming or transcending our founding documents. Indeed, quite the opposite. Our founding principles have enabled women’s flourishing.

— Julia Shaw is writer in Alexandria, Va.

Hans von Spakovsky

I will celebrate July Fourth the way I always do — by reading the Declaration of Independence and watching a fireworks display celebrating the birth of the greatest country on earth. But this year we won’t be celebrating in Virginia, where I live, but in that bastion of progressivism, Madison, Wisc.. My wife and I and our two younger children are headed for Madison where our oldest daughter, who just finished her second year at the University of Virginia, is interning for the summer and probably shocking her fellow interns with her conservative views.

July Fourth is a special holiday for me not only because of what happened in 1776, but because of what happened in 1951. That is the year my German mother and Russian father, who met in a refugee camp in occupied Germany, immigrated to the United States with not a penny to their name. While their first few years were not easy, as a result of their coming here, I and my four siblings got the chance to grow up in a freedom-loving, liberty-protecting, rule-of-law democracy. So every July Fourth, I celebrate the birth of the republic and the grand opportunity my parents gave us to be here to celebrate America’s birthday.

— Hans A. von Spakovsky is a former Justice Department official and contributor at National Review Online, and co-author of the new book new book  Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department
 

Bing West

Currently, America lacks national leadership. We have no set of leaders comparable to those who gathered in Philadelphia in 1776. Where there is no vision, the people perish. But of course we face no existential threat. We are not in any immediate danger, internally or externally. The gnawing concerns are complacency and selfishness, whether, for lack of self-confidence, we fade from the global scene and are content to become the Brazil of North America.

My belief and my prayer are that we are going through only a temporary time of lassitude and bickering. My hope is that as a nation, we will emerge reinvigorated, unwilling to concede that we have reached old age and the quiet twilight of the American era.

Asked to cite examples, I would point to the diligence and devotion of the 1 percent who guard us all. It has been my privilege for the past decade to embed time and again with our Army, Marine, and Special Operations grunts in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’re a rambunctious lot, and their enthusiasm is infectious, a delight to observe. Not for them are down days.

It makes no difference to them that the strategy was confused and overly ambitious. As far as they were concerned, they would fight wherever our nation sent them. As Sergeant Joe “Mad Dog” Myers said after a hard fight in the miserable Afghan district called Sangin: “This war’s stupid, but so what? Our country’s in it.”

God bless our warriors, one and all. They express the confidence and cockiness that has inspired our nation for 23 decades.

— Bing West, a former assistant secretary of defense for international affairs, has written seven books about the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

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