Unhappy Birthday

In Baltimore, Maryland

The flag at Fort McHenry. It’s Independence Day 2020. Are we any closer to living out the full promise of the Declaration for everyone? Or are we drifting further away?

Frederick Douglass, in an 1852 address on July 5, acknowledged the youth of the country as a hopeful characteristic: we were too young to realize that what we wrought through the institution of slavery was wrong. That with time and maturity, this would give way to a wiser, more enlightened national state of being.

“There is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon. The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence. May he not hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth, will yet give direction to her destiny? Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might be sadder, and the reformer’s brow heavier. Its future might be shrouded in gloom, and the hope of its prophets go out in sorrow.” — Frederick Douglass (read the whole speech here)

As I write this, the country is mired in the doldrums of inadequate (at best, and life-threatening at worst) leadership response to two scourges: the Coronavirus pandemic’s assault on health and safety and the oppression of Black lives through racial injustice, driven by but not limited to disgraceful and unrelenting episodes of police brutality. This Fourth of July, the sense of pride in the country is woefully low, as seen through a Gallup poll showing that just 45% of Americans feel ‘extremely proud’ to be so, the lowest mark in decades of the poll.

More than a century and a half after Douglass’s words, are we still too young to not have fully learned the “high lessons of wisdom, of justice, and of truth?” How much longer does our future need to be shrouded in this gloom?

How much longer will it take to grow up?

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