Our 4th of July Transcends Americans’ Distrust, Doldrums

Stephanie Frank with son Knighten and husband Derrick Frank, an officer with the Metropolitan Police Department, outside Dixie Liquors on M Street. | Photo courtesy of Dixie Liquors

If you pay attention to polls and pollsters and pundits and punsters, you’d think the American people—you know, us, you and me and yours and mine but maybe not the other guy and gal—haven’t been so depressed since the Depression.

Americans, these days, appear not to trust anybody in a position of authority or influence. The president, congress and even the venerable, black-robed members of the Supreme Court, are enjoying (if enjoy they can), their lowest approval ratings ever or in their lifetime. When it comes to President Barack Obama, not even Nixon was ever so low or unpopular, whether he was a crook or not. Lawmakers are creeping towards single-digit approval ratings, being compared not only to do-nothings but the famous know-nothings of the Civil War era. Only the pope and Angelina Jolie have consistently high approval ratings or score at the box office.

Things look so bad that you might have thought that everybody would have stayed home and sulked or snuck into their separate bathtubs at the beach and not bothered with the stuff that makes the Fourth of July so — I don’t know — uplifting and elevating.

Think again.

Americans may have no confidence in the president, and less in congress, but they still love a good, old-fashioned blow-out of fireworks, hot dogs by the dozens, the flag flying in the breeze at dusk and dawn, and aging rock-n-rollers. They still spread out their blankets, submit to searches, pop a cold one, sing old songs, and sit curbside as the parade marches by, tuba, cheerleader, mom and the kids, grandpa and the old slow-walking guy with all the medals from another time.

It may be Americans don’t trust their government—especially if the government spies on them with things that look like model airplanes. It may be we get a little lost in all our touch-screen gizmos which contain the world but with no directions. It may be if we’re most of us struggling to make the rent, we’re a little resentful of some 20-year-old making millions telling the manager how to make up his lineup. Maybe we can’t even trust General Motors—seriously. But, by God, there’s still nothing as American as apple pie (though British in origin), especially if your mother makes it or the market lady with her wonderful rhubarb pie from out in West Virginia a ways.

Here’s what happened on the Fourth of July in these parts—a phrase I don’t normally use except on the Fourth or watching a Memorial Day Parade, and remembering an old GI with a ribbon on his chest recall that “S.O.B. Patton” running into the Battle of the Bulge. It reminds of my adopted home, which is this country, this of thee as well as me. It reminds me of years ago when I sat around a wrinkled blanket full of afternoon holiday goodies with my Serbian stepfather and German mother, all of sort of crunched together in a mishmash of Ohio hot dogs, Serbian strong drinks, kraut and sausages and my mom’s potato salad and somebody’s apple pie.

In Georgetown, amid the many backyard parties, S&R Foundation supporters gathered Friday night at Evermay to watch far-away fireworks and cheer and clap amid beer, wine, water and barbecue, along with a lovely recital by acclaimed violist Ori Kam. Bill Dean’s house sat ready for its party-goers. Others were down at the Georgetown waterfront; still others were on the water with their boats in the Potomac. Shut down for the fireworks, Key Bridge was a cool spot for a huge, public crowd. Nearby, a small private group gathered at Halcyon House. Rooftops across town flickered with new visitors.

All across the country, I know, in those small towns and struggling mid-sized towns with a real main streets of shops, some shuttered, some sharing their wares, the Fourth was still a big day, and most people left cynicism in the wood shed or the barn, or gave it away at a yard sale.

Thousands showed up at the National Mall waving little and big flags, and listened to the Jersey Boy himself, 80-year-old Frankie Valli starting dangerously to look like a constrained Joe Pesci, but singing just like his high-pitched self, and watched the wholesome pretty Broadway star Kelly O’Hara sing the Sousa, the Cohan, the Berlin stomping like a red head, and the National Symphony Orchestra grooved out. Our heroes were lauded, sitting on the national front lawn.

They had parades that day or the next day everywhere, including the traditional one in Palisades, which always includes old cars, someone dressed up like a green Statue of Liberty, kids and their dogs, a feast of neighborhood Americans and the usual politicians trolling to be remembered in elections that come in near-winter. We always expect politicians in parades: they wave, they smile, they rush out to greet a familiar face, or unfamiliar ones. They are, forgive us, like the acrobats, the marching band and the clowns, out of costume, even as this particular occasion included a public endorsement of a candidate, which might have waited for a down-the-road press conference or e-mail, not a parade.

But no matter.

On this day, most of us managed to express that — despite the polls — we had a spirited, still optimistic sense of our country (this of thee and all that jazz, too), that we understood our virtues of inclusion without intrusion, that freedom is not just another word for nothing left to lose but a word we embrace like a last stand, as if we were winged, flying free. We honor brave men and women. We love the endless expanse of sea to shining sea, and recognize, too, that it’s all, well, complicated, but also rich. We can sing and voice all that and come tomorrow, still might scowl and say none of the above.

Because we can.

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