The more ostentatiously people display devotion or virtue, the less I am convinced. That applies to any popular fervor, from religious revivals to political demonstrations. A casserole, quietly carried to a sick neighbor, conveys far more Christian spirit than any wailing confession of sins on Sunday morning. Invisible trustees who maintain their village cemeteries, without pay or thanks, reveal a community fidelity that no politician can simulate by decorating veterans’ graves for a photo opportunity.
Ostentation has brought me to hate the Fourth of July. It’s the insincere commercialization that offends me, rather than the parades. My beef is not with the American Legion, where my father and I were both members, but more with the Chamber of Commerce: Chamber proxies drove a hefty increase in town funding for “patriotic purposes,” for the obvious ulterior motive of luring business patrons. Only a few years ago, every veteran on the budget committee voted against that appropriation, only to have our patriotism impugned by a transient huckster at town meeting.
Thanks to such relentless, unpersuasively patriotic promotion, the crowds have grown larger and the holiday longer every year. Encouraged by repeated public displays in North Conway, nitwits all over town toss fireworks into yards and woods from late June into mid-July, oblivious to sleeping neighbors or tinder-dry lawns and forests. The Fourth is no longer an occasion to reflect on the ideals betokened by the Declaration of Independence, or even to honor those who sacrificed much — and often all — in different struggles to bring those ideals to fruition. Around here, at least, Independence Day has become an invitation to show how loud and obnoxious people can be.
Such loutish behavior may flourish even more prominently on this 244th anniversary of our independence. So despised is this nation by about half its citizens that no symbol of its past seems safe from attack by social-justice guerrillas anxious to prove their courage in combat against inanimate objects and dead men — speaking of ostentatious displays of virtue.
No serious historian would dispute the repeated atrocities and persistent contradictions that have marred our experiment in democracy. Most, if they dared, would also cite our tremendous strides toward the realization of the original ideals. Many don’t dare, with their university administrators so terrified of the woke mob that they’ve begun sacrificing faculty members who stray from the Nicene Creed of progressive orthodoxy.
Intellectual freedom has become a joke in the past half-century, as American colleges and universities have replaced their academic leaders with bottom-line bureaucrats. The intimidation of such weak-kneed, glorified fundraisers has grown much easier since the president of Cornell capitulated to an armed uprising of radical students in 1969, allowing them to emerge victorious and unpunished. The guns have been replaced by Twitter accounts, and the demands for such concessions as black studies programs have given way to pathetic appeals for safe spaces, where students can be shielded from uncomfortable ideas.
Such truckling “leadership” now blights every level of education. This month, a Vermont school board fired the principal of a Windsor school over an admirably sensible but now-forbidden argument she made on Facebook along the lines that “all lives matter.” Using a term that’s extremely popular lately among groupthink enforcers, they called her “tone deaf.”
The curricular pandering that is crippling humanities departments has also infected secondary schools, where students are often taught what to think, rather than how to think. Replacing history courses with feel-good offerings in diversity and tolerance (tolerance of everything but opposing opinions) only worsens a myopic perspective that obscures profound social progress — such as the election of a Black president, twice, by handy majorities.
Five decades of diminishing historical literacy gave us Black Lives Matter protesters dumb enough to destroy a statue of antislavery journalist Hans Christian Heg, who died leading Union soldiers in battle. The best and brightest of their Boston allies vandalized the iconic monument to the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry. Indeed, hatred does thrive on ignorance.
Since no protests have erupted, students and staff at Josiah Bartlett Elementary School must not know that Bartlett was a slaveholder. His wife had one of their slaves chased down and returned to service early in 1776, and the runaway was back at work when his master signed the Declaration of Independence. If such oppressors deserve to be erased from history, are we not also morally obliged to destroy everything they created? Should the republic not be reduced to rubble? Many apparently think so.
William Marvel is a resident of South Conway.