The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Our declaration this Independence Day should be liberation from Trump

President Trump outside the White House on Wednesday.
President Trump outside the White House on Wednesday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

Frederick Douglass’s historic oration and cry of pain, anger and resolve were delivered to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society’s Fourth of July observance in Rochester, N.Y., in 1852.

Douglass did not use the occasion to take anything away from the Founders and their legacy. “I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration,” he told the crowd of more than 500 abolitionists. “They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.”

But Douglass knew he was commemorating the signing of the Declaration at the very hour millions of black men, women and children in America were chained to servitude. “The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers,” Douglass said to his largely white audience, “is shared by you, not by me.”

So it was, then.

What is this Fourth of July to America?

This day in national life, I submit, is President Trump’s. It has been appropriated by his shameless narcissism.

Trump will celebrate the Fourth by drawing attention to himself in the White House, backdropped by a huge fireworks display on the Mall and flyovers by the Navy’s Blue Angels and the Air Force’s Thunderbirds.

Unlike Trump, many others will use this Fourth to give thoughts and prayers for the 126,000 people in the country who have died since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and the 2.7 million more sickened by the disease.

This July 4 is not a high old time in America.

The nation is spending this national holiday in the midst of a deadly public health crisis that Trump, through negligence, incompetence and disgraceful self-regard, allowed to spread like a wildfire across the country.

All that is of small moment to Trump.

This president will celebrate and sermonize the day, looking past the protests against shocking and bloody police practices and the gross economic injustices that he has allowed to flourish on his watch. Trump shout-outs to liberty and equality will ring hollow.

Yes, the Fourth of July is a date to honor. But this year, it is also a day of sorrow for where we now find ourselves.

The United States of America, created in 1776 by men who put love of country over their own private interests — who staked their lives, fortunes and their sacred honor on the cause of their new nation — is now in the grasp of a man whose entire life has been spent taking, while giving nothing in return.

Trump’s successes are displayed in shrines across the country and around the world emblazoned with his name — Trump towers, Trump plazas, Trump golf courses, Trump casinos, and Trump streets and roads. Trump’s love is limited to his private interests. He stakes his life and fortune only on the cause of Trump.

To further sully the celebration of the most pivotal day in U.S. history, the White House is in the grasp of a president who thinks the United States’ heritage is exemplified by the legacy of the Confederate flag and the traitorous generals who fought under that symbol of white supremacy.

Trump’s meltdown over the attempted takedown of the slaveholding Andrew Jackson’s statue in Lafayette Square is, for instance, of a kind with his cherishing of monuments of the War of Southern Aggression, which started when the Confederacy fired on the American flag at Fort Sumter.

Douglass would be revolted by Trump’s infatuation with a history in which generations of blacks were robbed of their liberty and forced to show obedience to the master. As outraged as I am now.

Trump’s warm embrace of white nationalism on Independence Day 2020 makes a mockery of the concepts of justice and liberty entrusted to the nation in the Declaration.

Gwen and I celebrated our 59th wedding anniversary on July 3. The first four Fourth of Julys of our marriage were spent as citizens of a country with a large swath of areas that had hotels, restaurants and places of entertainment that we were not allowed to enter because we were black. Two of those years I spent proudly wearing the uniform of a U.S. Army commissioned officer.

Try living with that.

Today, we have the bodies of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery — with a preening, coldblooded bully ensconced in the Oval Office.

Whose Fourth of July is this?

The Founders discovered themselves faced with an oppressive Crown.

Separation from the Crown was right.

So, too, will be America’s liberation from Donald Trump.

That should be our declaration on this Independence Day.

Read more from Colbert King’s archive.

Read more:

Dana Milbank: A massive repudiation of Trump’s racist politics is building

Eugene Robinson: Trump’s only campaign promise is to make bigotry safe again

Paul Waldman: How Trump can win reelection

The Post’s View: It seems nothing will stop Trump from moving ahead with his dangerous Fourth of July events

Helaine Olen: This Fourth of July, covid-19 is forcing us to confront America’s many weaknesses

Michael Gerson: Trump surveyed the smoking ruin of his reelection and decided: Be more Trumpy