The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It’s the most quoted sentence from the Declaration of Independence, the document that America celebrates every July fourth.

When he penned those exalted words, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” and the idea that “all men are created equal,” Thomas Jefferson didn’t have everyone in mind. Unalienable rights were reserved for free white men. During his lifetime, Jefferson owned over 600 enslaved people, whose “Life,” from cradle to grave, was not their own, who had no “Liberty,” and were given no opportunity for the “pursuit of Happiness.”

And while Jefferson may have put the words “all men are created equal,” to parchment, there’s evidence that Jefferson saw little humanity in the people he enslaved. Eighteen years after the Declaration, in a letter to Madame Plumard de Bellanger, Jefferson imparted some investment advice meant for a family friend, counseling the friend to invest “every farthing in lands and negroes, which besides a present support bring a silent profit of from 5. to 10. per cent in this country by the increase in their value.”

Jefferson’s apologists often turn to his public statements, calling slavery, “against the laws of nature,” “a hideous blot,” and “a moral depravity.” The problem with that is, talking a good game counts for nothing; not for those who lived in servitude nor for the historical record. Slavery may have been against nature’s laws but it certainly fit in nicely with 18th century Virginia’s laws of agrarian economics, and Jefferson was not above taking full advantage of those laws.

The Black man’s humanity didn’t come 11 years later when racism was baked into The Constitution with the three-fifths clause, stipulating that, for the purpose of representation, three out of every five enslaved people were counted towards the population of the slave holding states. It wasn’t lost on the southern states that counting a Black person as three-fifths of a man gave the southern, slave holding states, a huge leg up in the Electoral College (Five of the first seven presidents were southern slavers).


That was then, and over the course of two and a half centuries since the Declaration was adopted, progress – slow, painful, costly and always grudging – has been made. Through legislation, court decisions, protests, violence, and four years of civil war, Black people and the other marginalized started to see the promises of the Declaration within their grasp. Meanwhile, America was doing the hard thing of acknowledging the shames of the past.

For years, my commemoration of July fourth was an easy, carefree, thing; a day off work to watch baseball, indulge in grilled food and beer, an ice cream sundae for dessert and top it all off with fireworks. It was a day to be proud of America, the day to proudly display the flag and to celebrate those “self-evident” truths.

As the years have stacked up, and I’ve put more thought into the history, the meaning and the intent behind Independence Day, I’ve found myself changing the way I view this day. Considering this nation’s history since July 1776, and the events of recent years, celebration has come harder and harder. Beginning in 2016, and the administration of the 45th president, celebration was coming grudgingly.

In the past I could consider Jeffersonian hypocrisy, slavery, the treatment of Native Americans and all of the other blots as incidents and periods to remember, to learn from and to improve upon. Nothing is perfect and we as a society and a nation can only move forward as best we can. Celebrate the ideals, celebrate the wars won against tyranny, and celebrate America’s leadership in science, the arts and industry. Celebrate the fact that even though America has stumbled, the ideals have been there to inspire other nations. Even if America wasn’t the perfect version of the “shining city on a hill,” the principles certainly could stand as lights, guiding the path up that hill. This year any notion of pride seems delusional and celebration insincere. These sentiments don’t come easy and they sadden me.

We’re in our eighth year of Trumpian purgatory and instead of progressing, America is regressing. I see a segment of the nation repudiating and perverting the ideals that were put forth in The Declaration and The Constitution.

The Declaration of Independence was the rejection of a king and the repudiation of one man rule. And now, over two centuries later, America is experiencing a cult of personality that is anathema to the struggle that commenced in 1776. I recall a time when any candidate who pronounced, “I alone can fix it,” would be dismissed as a pretender and excoriated as a tyrant in waiting. And yet, just this sort of man is the frontrunner to be a nominee for his second term as president. He has been compared by some (himself especially), to Washington, Lincoln and Churchill. He’s even been compared to Jesus — for Chrissake. Is this sort of idolatry in keeping with the Declaration?

The cult of personality has embraced a man who helped to foment an insurrection, promised to pardon insurrectionists, called for termination of sections of the Constitution, railed against a made up deep state, and attempted to overthrow an election. He has openly vowed retribution against those who he believes treated him unjustly. And how does any of that square with the Constitution?

There was a time when a candidate’s admission to grabbing women’s genitals would be a campaign’s death knell. Not only was that excused, but two criminal indictments (with more likely to come) have only strengthened Trump’s standing amongst his followers.


Say what you will about the founders, they were nothing if not courageous, well educated, intelligent and focused on their task at hand. That’s been true of many of our nation’s leaders, legislators and jurists since the founding. It’s true of the famous and the unsung who had the courage and the selflessness and the patriotism to move America forward and in a direction away from racism and hatred and towards acknowledging the mistakes of the past and working to rectify them while preserving the ideals of democracy and The Constitution.

Where is the courage among Republicans who continue to treat the former president with reverence and, whenever they happen to incur his anger, kneel and grovel for his forgiveness? Is this the repudiation of a monarch?

There was a time when the unqualified were rejected by the electorate, when, regardless of political views, truly competent individuals were elected to office. Now, bush-league assholes, who act like jerks, with no agenda other than to spout nonsense, bigotry and hate are soiling the halls of Congress and state houses across the nation.

The Supreme Court is experiencing its lowest approval rating in fifty years.

The push to bring the Bible and Christianity into schools and government is becoming ever greater. While you, the Christian, may need Jesus in your life, America doesn’t. America needs separation of church and state.

The current Governor of Florida, who is also running for president, has been running roughshod on civil rights. An article in The Berkshire Edge describes him as “the despotic governor of Florida who is determined to stifle all ideas, behaviors, and institutions that he doesn’t particularly like.” The piece continues, “ … the idea of him exporting his vision for a straight, white, science-denying, refugee-hating America to the White House should be profoundly frightening to anyone preferring not to live in an Orwellian dystopia.”

If Florida itself isn’t frightening enough, the fact that other states view a fascist leaning Florida as a great blueprint for their own states is indeed terrifying.

The ideals of the word “liberty” are being perverted by a pernicious group called Moms for Liberty whose leaders suggest that they are “moms on a mission to stoke the fires of liberty.” Sounds very apple pie doesn’t it? What they are on a mission to do is to stoke division, ban books, control thought and stifle debate.

Today the most visible group in the crosshairs of the right wing, the haters and the bigots like DeSantis and Moms for Liberty, is the LGBTQ community. Gay people were coming out of closet in growing numbers when I was in high school. Today whether through legislation or discrimination or outright violence the gay community is being pushed viciously back. Way back when, the term that the bigots used was “recruiting” The term du jour is “grooming,” and it’s used openly and indiscriminately. Not only are DeSantis and the Moms working to curtail LBGTQ rights, they are on a mission to disappear that community.

In November of 2020, I’d hoped that we would be lifted out of purgatory. Clearly I was mistaken. That we’re still in the dark depths is depressing. That the move to the right has not only managed to survive and gain traction, but actually grow like a cancer is frightening. Who would have thought that a sitting member of Congress would call the Ukrainian forces fighting against an invading war criminal, a ‘Nazi army?’ I never imagined that the day would come when the Republican Party would put out the welcome mat for Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian President who just a week earlier said that Europeans “do not want to become peoples of mixed race.”

Leading up to Independence Day, a Gallup poll revealed that only 39 percent of U.S. adults say they are “extremely proud” to be an American.

I want to be proud of my country but it’s become very difficult. Nowadays I settle for being proud of the ideals upon which this country was founded and of the brave people, famous and obscure, who have struggled to secure “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” for all.

On this Independence Day celebrate the day by setting aside a few minutes to read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Consider whether or not we are truly living up to the ideals set forth in those documents. It won’t take long. You can still grill the burgers, watch the game and take in the fireworks display. This year try having a slice of democracy for dessert.

Declaration of Independence

Constitution of the United States

For information on Moms for Liberty,
Moms for Liberty, meet John Birch: the roots of US rightwing book bans

25 thoughts on “My Independence Day 2023 Struggle

  1. mistermuse says:

    Too bad Trump doesn’t “hold these truths to be self-evident.” The fact that he was elected President once (and could be again) proves that America still has a long way to go before truths are self-evident.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Mr. M.
      When it comes to truth, self-evident or obscure, Trump is incapable of holding them. He is a sieve of lies. He believes only in himself.

    2. mistermuse says:

      Like! (Your blog is one of a few i follow in which “Like” doesn’t ‘take’ when I click it — sorry about not being able to “Like” your posts and comments, even though I do!)

  2. Deb says:

    Another in a long list of posts that I can humbly say thank you for writing Paul. There is nothing about this day I celebrate and very, very little about this place I am proud of.

    1. Paul says:

      Isn’t it a shame that it’s come to this, Deb? Thank you for reading and commenting.

  3. Jane Fritz says:

    Paul, you speak to truth, and you do it with eloquence and passion. Those who value the ideals that America had come to represent, both within America and outside it, share your concern for the current situation. The world needs a healthy America, leading by example in tolerance and inclusion.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Jane,
      After eight years of this hell, my concern has turned to fear. After 2020, I thought that the nightmare would go away. It only got worse.

      “…the ideals that America had come to represent…” “Had” is the key word in your comment. What does the world think that America represents now? The possible answers frighten me.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  4. Anne Sandler says:

    While I was walking my dog this morning, I was thinking the same thing. I used to be proud of this country. Then years later, not so proud, but the best there is. Now I don’t even think that. Does a country to be proud of exist? What is happening in the world and our own homeland? Tonight I will enjoy a potluck and fireworks, hoping that humankind will find its way to equality, peace and happiness.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Anne,
      “What is happening in the world and our own homeland?” Good question and sadly appropriate for this past holiday weekend. My wife and I watched baseball and then a movie. I grilled steaks and we finished with apple pie and ice cream. Meanwhile, all over town people were blowing off illegal fireworks. It didn’t matter to those people that their neighbor’s pets are terrified, or that the hills are a dry brown, or that it’s, you know, illegal. They’re entitled. But that’s small potatoes, because elsewhere the gun violence was higher than usual (quite a feat in the USA). Those were the headlines, local and national, about how America celebrated its birthday.

  5. annieasksyou says:

    It’s hard, Paul, but there are many Americans fighting like hell to not only prevent further backsliding—but to push us closer to our ideals. I think it’s important to pay attention to them. They include elected officials at all levels of government—beginning with our underrated president and vice president; the three brilliant women on our Supreme Court whose recent dissents point to where we can and should be; people like Marc Elias, who fights every day for democracy in the courts; and fired up Americans who are working on the local and state levels for greater equity and fairness. I am infuriated by the same things you are, but I worry that the impact of despair manifests itself as apathy that can allow the hatemongers to make greater gains. An electorate that fights for expanded rights represents the majority—but only if we turn our anger and sadness into action.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Annie,
      Your points are all well taken, particularly your point about apathy. It tends to be a problem with Democrats.

      I would add to apathy, a thing that is a sort of cousin to apathy that I’ll call misplaced discontent. For some, me included, Biden isn’t progressive enough. I think I’m politically savvy enough to know that if he moves too far to the left he loses middle of the road support in some swing states. So I have to satisfy myself with that (something which it seems I’ve been doing for my entire adult life).

      Cornel West is going to make a run as a Green Party candidate. Here is where the misplaced discontented go to vote. To make things worse, not satisfied with f’ing everything up in 2016, Jill Stein is apparently running West’s campaign. This is what terrifies me. There was not a lot of wiggle room for Biden in 2020. And I always thought Cornel West was a smart guy. Guess I was wrong.

      So what has me really nervous is a combination of apathy, and a third party candidate who attracts the voter who has no problem with cutting off his nose to spite his face.

      Your point on the Supreme Court? Absolutely. Alas, there are only three. We’re sort of stuck with always relying on the hope that Roberts and Kavanaugh will break ranks. Thomas is on a weird vendetta, Alito is a snotty idealogue, Gorsuch is a liar and Barrett is a zealot.

      “… fired up Americans who are working on the local and state levels for greater equity and fairness.” Agreed, but I find that historically the Democrats lag behind the Republicans in this area. Mom’s for Liberty is a good example of how radical Republicans finagle their way into school boards and city councils and then work their way up. Democrats have to get up to speed.

      I agree that Biden is underrated but I’m not happy that he decided to run again. He’s 80 and there are plenty like me who think he should ride off into the sunset with a legacy of a job well done. No company hires an 80+ year old to be CEO. He may be sharp enough and healthy enough now but what happens if a year from now he’s not? Kamala? She’s polling horribly.

      I haven’t given up.
      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      1. annieasksyou says:

        I hope you’ll visit when I make my case for Biden AND Harris, which I do from time to time—as do others who wish he were younger but feel his accomplishments and experience and vision can’t be matched now…And highly praise Kamala.

        I’m also very concerned about No Labels, who pretend to be centrists/moderates, but are funded by folks who think Biden’s too far to the left and seem to care not one whit if Trump wins.

        But I’m determined not to be overwhelmed by things I can’t control. RFK Jr is another. I continue to believe we will beat back the evil forces. Six citizen efforts to get abortion on the ballot. Six successes. Plenty of people aren’t apathetic…they’re fighting.

        1. Paul says:

          I look forward to your case for Biden/Harris.

          RFK. He’s a clown. He might get some short lived traction in Iowa and New Hampshire because Biden won’t be on the ballot, but after that RFK will fade away quickly.

          No Labels. It concerns me but not so much as Cornel West. In theory, No Labels has pledged not to run a candidate if that candidate will lead to one of the other candidates stealing the election. In politics though, a pledge often stands on a weak foundation.

          I believe that you’ve mentioned Sisters In Law. It’s an interesting podcast that I listen to regularly. I also listen to Hacs on Tap which has some interesting insights on 2024 and I listen to Pod Save America. You might find them interesting.

          1. annieasksyou says:

            Hi, Paul. I’d intended to respond to this comment sooner! Thanks for the recommendations. I love podcasts, and I’ve listened to both “Hacks…” and “Pod Save America.” My weekly standards in addition to “SistersInLaw” are “Strict Scrutiny”—also with funny brilliant women lawyers (more snark), which focuses on SCOTUS—and “Jack,” which follows the progress of special prosecutor Jack Smith.

            I also like several newsletters, including Heather Cox Richardson’s “Letters From an American” and two that I quote from/refer to in my most recent post on Biden’s accomplishments both abroad and at home, titled for rhetorical purposes “What Do the Lithuanians See in President Biden That Many Americans Don’t?”

            I’d love to know your reactions to that post.


  6. Hettie D. says:

    I can give you one reason to be proud of this country, no matter how many wrongs we see. We know how to say “we were wrong” – just as you did. And many of us are trying to correct the wrongs which were done in the past. And not all the countries are ready to admit mistakes made. I think you know what country I am talking about. Happy Fourth!

    1. Paul says:

      I agree Hettie. We just don’t have enough people in the right places making that admission. That’s why so many states are banning some books and establishing some nonsense called patriotic education.
      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  7. Toonsarah says:

    Powerful as always – I wish more Americans would read and ponder on the points you make. We sat next to two young Americans at the Wimbledon tennis yesterday. Nice guys and obviously cheering for their countryman (Fritz) and happy that he won. But at one point one of them said that, ‘The US is the greatest country in the world’ and reckoned that all Americans would say the same. It wasn’t the time or place to have a political discussion so I just said that most people might say that about their own country and didn’t tell him that I know quite a few of his countrymen who are less confident of its greatness than they used to be.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Sarah,
      “But at one point one of them said that, ‘The US is the greatest country in the world’ and reckoned that all Americans would say the same.” What an ass. Who visits another country and touts his own over all others to a citizen of the host country? An American. How rude. The fact that he even said that is proof that this country isn’t so great at teaching diplomacy and manners. Kudos to you for not saying anything.

      That all comes from the myth of American exceptionalism which is ingrained in people (well, certain people) beginning at the cradle. These are the people who don’t want slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, Critical Race Theory or the 1619 Project taught in schools, up to and including universities.

      Thank you again for reading and commenting

      1. Toonsarah says:

        In fairness he was only young and full of excitement at his countryman’s win. He and his friend are doing one of those manic Europe trips on the lines of ‘If this is Tuesday it must be Belgium’!

  8. eden baylee says:

    So on point, Paul. A really compelling read.
    This > “These sentiments don’t come easy and they sadden me.”
    I’m sorry.
    It’s no surprise I should apologize since I’m Canadian, but I feel the same when Canada Day (July 1) comes around, particularly because it was also the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned almost all Chinese immigration to Canada. This was an escalation of the head tax implemented in 1885 — AFTER more than 17,000 Chinese labourers had helped build the Canadian Pacific Railway. My grandfather was one of the immigrants who paid the head tax and came to Canada, only to never see his wife again. So many families were separated forever during this shameful period.

    Ideals like tolerance, acceptance, freedom of expression, and basic human needs are what Canada is known for. Unfortunately, I’m aware these are not afforded to everyone in equal measure. As a visible minority, they seem ever more precarious.

    I’m always cognizant of how proud Americans are of their country. They offer up their nationality more easily than any other group I know. (We talked about the one American I met in Cuba). I figure there’s no point pissing on someone who claims to live in the best country on earth. How do I even respond to that? It’s a narrow view that lacks any critical thought.

    I hope you know how much i appreciate this piece, how difficult it must’ve been for you to write, especially on Independence Day.


    1. Paul says:

      Hello Eden,
      The fact of the matter is sadness is just one of an array of feelings. Sadness, disappointment, fear, disbelief, white hot anger, and despair.

      Marjorie Taylor Greene pops off and there’s anger and disbelief. Ron DeSantis puts out a bizarre, homophobic, I hate gays more than Trump video, and I feel fear. The Supreme Court goes off the rails and I feel despair and fear. Maybe it’s the Supreme Court that scares me the most. Two corrupt ideologues, a religious zealot, a pair of liars and a milquetoast Chief Justice. And they’re there FOR LIFE.

      “Ideals like tolerance, acceptance, freedom of expression, and basic human needs are what Canada is known for.” Unfortunately, I’m aware these are not afforded to everyone in equal measure.”
      I can’t say that Canada and the U.S. are alone in that regard. Western democracies treat immigrants like shit and there’s an alarming rise in right wing populism.

      As for your American and Sarah’s American, I just can’t understand how people can go to another country and brag about America. Even if you believe it, it’s rude. I know people who have returned from abroad and told me how much better America is than ______. I had the opposite experience when I returned from Spain.

      Thank you for reading and commenting

  9. robinwinter says:

    Having lived overseas for many years, yes, I am infuriated by the shameless expression of hatred and intolerance, greed and selfishness that this country’s liberal policies allow, but I am convinced that if we did not allow them, we would be like some of those other places I have lived. There, such shameful expressions hold place of pride and become part of the law of the land.

    Yes, let’s continue to look to the ideals and their ever-renewed interpretation over time. We cannot give up the fight because the other side seems to have the pulpit (in more ways than one.) Right-wing populism is a bitter enemy, but we cannot let it speak for us unopposed. I appreciate your thoughtful pieces but they are more than a pleasure, they are part of this very struggle that helps us keep working to regain the heart of our country. There are small ways in which any of us can engage, whether it is communicating with our representatives, writing postcards and letters for efforts that get out the vote, involving ourselves in doctors without walls, or adult literacy efforts. As Decatur said: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” We have work to do.

    Thank you, Paul.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Robin,
      “I am infuriated by the shameless expression of hatred and intolerance, greed and selfishness that this country’s liberal policies allow, but I am convinced that if we did not allow them, we would be like some of those other places I have lived. There, such shameful expressions hold place of pride and become part of the law of the land.”
      Unfortunately in Florida, the former Confederate States and in most other red states, expression and words have been translated into action. In these states intolerance, bigotry, voter suppression and the removal of rights have all become the law in those lands. Thankfully, in many cases, the courts are knocking these travesties down. What happens when and if these cases get to the SCOTUS is something to be concerned about, given the right wing, legislative bent of the current court.

      We are in complete agreement on the need to continue the struggle. What is discouraging is that the 45th president breathed life into the worst of our society, leading to the election of a collection of misfits and crazies into positions of power, thus creating the need to literally start the struggle from where we were thirty or more years ago.

      And so the fight continues.

      Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful comment.

  10. Thoughtful and powerful.

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

Would love to hear from you

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