For so many reasons, this Fourth of July left me cold.
By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News
It wasn’t the usual July Fourth. I spent it with just a small group of friends and we wore masks and kept our distance from one another. And watching the fireworks wasn’t the same either.
Many displays were cancelled, but thanks to President Donald Trump, the ones here in Washington, D.C., were preceded by flyovers of vintage war planes, military helicopters, more F-16s, F-18s, and F-23s than I could count, an old B-52 bomber, and finally a B-1 stealth bomber. It was all pretty impressive or intimidating or wasteful or offensive, depending on your point of view.
We celebrate July 4 with fireworks because John Adams, our second president and first vice president, told us to. In a letter to his wife dated July 3, 1776, he said the holiday, “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations as the great anniversary Festival” and “ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.” It all sounds so wonderful and festive.
But this year, July 4 left me cold.
All I could think of were the problems we face, the problems that divide us now more than at any time in the past two generations. I thought about the militarization of our police forces and the ease with which the police kill African-American men and women with impunity.
Sure, there has been a long overdue uprising after the murder of George Floyd and there may be some reforms in the offing. But what about those Americans murdered by police for whom there has been no justice? What about Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Philando Castille, Freddie Gray, and the hundreds of other African-Americans murdered by police without consequence?
I thought about the president of the United States describing Confederate monuments, those memorials to the traitors who took up arms against their own country in 1861, as “our statues” and describing the confederacy as “our culture” and “our heritage.” Sorry, but that’s not my history.
And it’s not the history of most Americans. In fact, those monuments are symbols of hatred, of oppression, and of tyranny. They should never have been erected in the first place. Their destruction is long overdue.
I thought about our country’s endless wars. We’ve been fighting in Afghanistan for 19 years, in Iraq for 16 years and in Syria for nine. We have special forces in multiple African countries (although we’re not supposed to know that), and our navy is ready for battle in the South China Sea.
I thought about my fellow Americans incarcerated across the country, especially those serving draconian sentences for non-violent drug offenses. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prison population. That doesn’t make us any safer. It just makes us more heavy-handed. It destroys families. It encourages recidivism. And it disenfranchises millions of people.
I thought of my cousin George Culetsu and my friend Alan Rude, both of whom died of Covid-19, and the utter lack of national leadership that likely contributed to their deaths. Just six years ago, Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican of Iowa, told CNN that President Barack Obama exhibited “failed leadership” in his approach to the Ebola virus. At the time, there were 11 confirmed cases and two deaths from Ebola in the United States.
Now, with some 130,000 Americans dead from Covid-19, Ernst lauded Trump’s response to the pandemic, saying that the president had “stepped forward” to tackle the problem. It’s outrageous.
I thought about the immigrant families forcibly separated at the Mexican border, unable to apply for asylum, their children kept in cages. Many of them are sick and are unable to receive appropriate medical care in the richest country in the world and in the middle of a pandemic. Many are destined to be forcibly returned to some of the most dangerous countries in the world, where they face violence and death.
I thought about the complete lack of moral leadership that we have in our country. I thought of our president holding up a Bible like a cheap prop, our president surrounded by evangelicals “laying hands” on him, our president bragging that “nobody knows the bible” as well as he does.
This is the same man who has mocked the disabled and progressives, and who has said the most vile things about women. This is the same man who has been married three times and who has cheated on all three of his wives.
I didn’t enjoy the Fourth of July. I was distracted. I had a feeling of dread. I am worried about the country. I only hope that it’s not too late for us.
John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act — a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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