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The Declaration of American Individualism

What is Fourth of July when self-obsession is part of why we keep falling so far from freedom?

Fourth of July fireworks in Atlanta in 2020.JOSHUA RASHAAD MCFADDEN/NYT

Personal liberty over collective freedom is a crisis of America’s conscious.

It’s all about us, the individuals. One’s personal belief becomes the priority over all else — even if the result is mass casualties. We’ve seen it firsthand with COVID.

America was born this way. The majority of the guys who wrote “all men are created equal,” endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, did so while owning enslaved people. They did so knowing the violence they inflicted upon Indigenous people. Just this week, our Supreme Court further hurt Native Americans, giving states more power over tribal land.

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“The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me,” Frederick Douglass said in an 1852 speech on Independence Day. “The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

This country was supposed to be founded on religious and political freedom. But this alleged independence was sought by oppressing others, by placing the needs of its forefathers above the safety and well-being of anyone else.

Donald Trump used that divisive and demeaning lens of superiority as his political platform, wielding power in an effort to pummel anyone who does not adhere to guns as their God and money and men as the moral compass for this country.

He incited an insurrection. We knew that. He publicly demanded his followers fight the election results.

Now, as the congressional hearings continue, we are learning more. The testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, who served as an aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, revealed Trump did not care that his believers were armed because they were no danger to him.

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“I don’t effing care that they have weapons — they’re not here to hurt me,” Trump said, according to Hutchinson. “Take the effing [metal detectors] away and let my people in.”

His people. His fight. Damn democracy and the nation. Trump allegedly tried to fight a secret service agent and literally grab the wheel. Their freedom over everybody. This is not liberty. It is power.

Perhaps, it is this individualistic nature that drove Clarence Thomas to join the majority in the Supreme Court’s decision to expand gun rights and restrict reproductive rights. Of course you need guns when your wife is waging Trump’s war.

In his opinion to overturn Roe, citing Griswold vs. Connecticut, Lawrence v. Texas, and Obergefell v. Hodges, Thomas also took aim at contraceptives, private sexual acts, and same-sex marriage.

He did this as a Black man married to insurrectionist Ginni Thomas, a white woman. They live in Virginia, where it became illegal to ban marriages between races only 55 years ago, thanks to Loving v. Virginia. Thomas never mentioned that case, because, like our founding fathers, he puts himself above all else.

Loving, like the cases Thomas did mention, was won in part because SCOTUS ruled that Virginia’s law violated the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. You know, the part where no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law?

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Thomas, and the Supreme Court of the United States in 2022, is overwhelmed with the American tradition of exceptionalism, the idea that so long as “I get what I want,” it’s all good.

They are destroying the boundaries between church and state. They are actively disarming those who fight to solve climate change. The Voting Rights Act is in danger as SCOTUS continues to hear redistricting cases across the country.

Their framework subscribes to the notion that no state shall deprive any person of a right — except those who folk in power deem unworthy of equity and freedom.

In a country with a police brutality problem, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers can’t be sued for violating the rights of criminal suspects by failing to issue a Miranda warning before questioning.

Earlier this week, 25-year-old Jayland Walker was killed. He was shot 60 times by police after he fled his car during a high-speed chase. He was hit in the face, stomach, and legs. We are awaiting video. We know his body was in handcuffs when the medical examiner investigator arrived at the scene.

We are a brutal country. And SCOTUS is destroying freedom as a practice. It is continually finding new ways to uphold extreme conservative Christianity and chaos over collective human rights, prioritizing a chosen few over all.

Americans are strangers to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people. Our rights.

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“To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” the founding fathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence.

“That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness,” the hallowed document continues.

What is safety and happiness in America? Liberty will not live in a system of power and individualism. Where liberty cannot thrive, it is our duty to fight for it.

The Declaration of Independence represented the makings of men solidifying their rights, for them, exercised only by them. Supremacy. For us, it should be a reminder that freedom is a practice we protect, an ongoing journey we are responsible for keeping safe.

Fourth of July is not a celebration of freedom but it can be a call to it. Will you answer?


Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee and on Instagram @abeautifulresistance.