It’s Memorial Day weekend. People are stocking up on beer, beef, and other cook-out essentials. Cheap little American flags are everywhere. Red, white, and blue covers everything. It feels less like a day to remember the dead and more like a prelude to the patriotic orgies of Independence Day. In the grocery store I see spray-tanned soccer moms and middle-aged men with swollen bellies preparing for the long weekend, for the retreat to the lake or grazing by the pool. Here are the people that swell with pride when a terrorist camp is vaporized by a Patriot missile or get choked up when a soldier is killed or the Star Spangled Banner plays before a football game. They love Jesus and George Washington, but haven’t read the Bible or any of the founding documents. They believe in the pageantry of the holiday, but don’t really care about its core meaning. They’ll go to the parade, walk to the cemetery, and talk in somber voices about “duty” and “sacrifice,” but would never dream of doing either of those things. Would they give up their Bud Light and barbecue if it meant protecting the country they claim to love? I sure as hell don’t know, but I’d wager they wouldn’t. Instead they’re content to let other people, other people’s kids do the dirty work. Yes, it’s a terrible price to pay, but if I can sip a domestic brew by the pool then it’s a price that must be paid. Raise taxes to care for those veterans? Hell no! I earned that money, I need that money. Now let me enjoy my long weekend and spend my money. How depraved it is to turn into a holiday about remembrance into an act of consumerism.
These are the same people that gush about liberty, the Constitution, and the American Way, but don’t bother to understand what any of that means. The government is spying on its citizens in violation of the Fourth Amendment? Well, if you have nothing to hide. Journalists and the press are eyed with suspicion and derision? They should get in line and support their country! Love it or leave it! Protestors are exercising their First Amendment right? Lock ‘em up for all I care. The police are running rampant and becoming militarized? Good, it makes me feel safe. They dream of overthrowing a tyrannical government with their hunting rifles and shotguns without realizing that by supporting enormous military spending that a revolution would get smothered in the crib.
They live in poverty, or on the verge of bankruptcy, but vote for politicians that push their faces deeper into the mud. These politicians distract with talk about the salvation of hard work, the strength of Christian morals, and how the immigrants and leftists are the ones ruining America, not the nihilistic bankers that would pillage the country if it meant a better bottom line.
How does this tie into Memorial Day? It’s because the people who faithfully observe the holiday don’t seem to understand that the men and women that sacrificed themselves did it to protect the country from the threat of mindless tyranny. Granted, many of these people also fought for their loved ones, and in recent years for the chance at a slight boost up the social ladder, but at the end of the day there was that kernel of defending life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That may not have been the case, but they believed that that was what they fought to protect.
Case-in-point, two days ago, Greg Gianforte won the special election in Montana. Four days ago, his name wouldn’t have meant too much to people not from Montana. His name may have been heard in passing, and he may have been known as the Republican candidate running for office, but now he’s the guy that body slammed a journalist. He still won. Now, his punching a journalist probably didn’t clinch the election for him since Montana allows early voting and he may have already won his seat.
Still, what if that punch had happened a week before the election, or a month, or before the opening of early voting? Would it have sunk his chances of winning or only gained him points? We can never really know, but it seems like we are sliding into an era of American history where thuggish authoritarianism is preferable to democracy. A congressional candidate goes pro-wrestler on a journalist and the president talks about turning libel into a chance to censor dissent. That’s not to say there aren’t conservatives appalled by this behavior but this trend toward an American dictatorship is…troubling, to put it lightly.
There is also this shift toward adherence to civic religion, or the idea of worshiping the state. It’s a strange mix of nationalism and the belief that our country is nearly perfect if not perfect already. This ignores the fact that for a democracy to work, and work well, you need vocal skeptics and critics. Why are we doing this? What will this accomplish? Where is your evidence? This doesn’t make sense. Why aren’t we doing X instead of Y? It also means patience and dedication. The time to gather information, turn it into a policy, then defend it before the nation. It seems that people don’t want that, they want instant fixes without the annoyance of sacrifice or delay. Mind you, this applies to the left and the right. The right screeches about Constitutionality and “American values,” but goes on the defense when it comes to questioning police power, military intervention, or social oppression. Meanwhile, the left thinks that bumper stickers and timid rallies will make an impact because the alternative is too daunting or dangerous. And both sides still celebrate Memorial Day with the same vigor, despite lacking the self-awareness to realize that they are doing it on reflex without pausing to consider the weight behind the holiday.
How many of us would be willing to sacrifice for freedom, true civic freedom? I’m not talking about giving an arm and a leg, or even your life, but sacrificing a little time and money to help stem the rushing tide of authoritarianism in America.
How about those burgers and beers on Memorial Day?
How about voting or doing more than attending a single rally and patting yourself on the back?
How about just reading, knowing and defending the Constitution?
There are cheap fireworks exploding in the distance, and on an afternoon walk I smelled burning charcoal for a pre-Memorial Day barbecue. I have nothing against these things, but how many people recognize that Memorial Day should be a somber reflection about the price of civil liberties and the duty to make sure those men and women didn’t die in vain?
Go, enjoy your food and drink and parades and fireworks and time at the lake, but don’t pretend you care about freedom then cheer on a thug that punches journalists or a tinpot king that celebrates violence and cronyism.