Happy Fourth of July. It might be our last.
As always, reality brings a bit more nuance.
The removal of honorary statues of Confederate leaders makes good sense. Whatever positive traits they had, they also unequivocally raised arms in rebellion against the United States. Unless they were later rehabilitated, that treason alone should remove them from places of reverence. The fact that they were motivated, even indirectly, by the preservation of slavery simply bolsters the case.
Similarly, Mississippi is on the right path removing the canton on the “ stainless banner” from their state flag. Symbols are not substantive, but they do convey meaning. Jettisoning the identity of treason is healthy for any state. Indeed, while Maine’s flag does not suffer from the same connotation, reimagining our own banner is probably worthwhile.
The rejection of Christopher Colombus is less certain, but still understandable. He was jailed in his own time, declared a tyrant for his treatment of natives. Italian-Americans brought forward his popular legend and enterprising politicians glommed onto it. It was a way a reviled immigrant community could assert a sense of belonging. But maybe Amerigo Vespucci — America’s namesake — would’ve been a better symbol without the baggage.
Yet “cancel culture” has gone off the deep end. Charles Blow, a New York Times opinion columnist, has called for the abolition of honor for George Washington. Protestors toppled a statue of Ulysses S. Grant, hero of the Union. And Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, the very document we celebrate this weekend, had his statue torn down by protestors in the “other” Portland.
Equating Grant with Robert E. Lee is asinine. “Cancelling” Jefferson and Washington for owning slaves is foolish. But if it is to be, then let’s extend the principle to its logical end.
The Declaration itself — and the celebration of the Fourth of July — needs to go. It refers to Native Americans as “ merciless Indian Savages.” The first draft denounced slavery, but signers elected to remove that passage. Canceled.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, hero of the progressive movement and champion of the so-called “New Deal?” He chose to lock up Japanese-Americans solely based on their ancestry. Canceled.
Martin Luther King, Jr.? Famed civil rights leader? Well, he may have been a serial adulterer and accomplice to rape. Canceled.
Mahatma Gandhi of non-violent protest fame? He was pretty racist and sexist. Canceled.
How about Planned Parenthood? It’s founder, Margaret Sanger, was a eugenicist who believed “the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of” certain “unfit” groups. She was proud of her speeches to the women of the Ku Klux Klan. Canceled.
Want to keep going? What will be left?
This is where “cancel culture” abandons critical thinking in favor of emotional response. And it is one of the great dangers the Founders — those brilliant, honorable, flawed, imperfect men — warned us about.
They worried America would succumb to tyranny. More specifically, the “ tyranny of the masses.” Voters — the masses — would centralize power instead of distribute it. Then, once power was consolidated, it would be used emotionally, without resort to reason. Looking at the world today, it is hard to say their fear was unfounded.
By all means, we should turn a critical eye towards history. “ Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But vapid, unthinking “cancel culture” is a road to an Orwellian, tyrannical nation.
So happy 244th birthday America. You have some wrinkles, pockmarks, and blemishes. Those are the stories of your past. Hopefully we will learn from them and get better. And with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we will still be here next year to celebrate your 245th.
Happy Fourth of July, everyone.
Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan and in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine. He was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.