Imagine if we’d had Twitter in our revolutionary days, and the Declaration was a Tweet of Independence: “Yo @King George. We are so outta here!” None of that “life, liberty and the purfuit of happinef” jazz. Imagine a modern war waged on social media. No need for Paul Revere’s “One if by land, two if by sea” rigmarole, which may have been a fiction concocted by Henry Longfellow anyway. No matter; @Reverep could have just taken a picture on ye olde smartphone and put it out on the Internet.
But noooo. Instead, we were left with a wordy document that most of us remember mainly because of that narcissistic signature by the guy for whom they named an insurance company. And what did we get from the flowery words? “Just powers from the consent of the governed”? Well, kind of.
It’s true that we hold elections. But it’s also true that those elections are largely bought and paid for by the American aristocracy. They’re sort of similar to kings and queens, except they have more power. Let’s face it — the Founding Fathers probably didn’t anticipate “Citizens United.” Maybe they would have if there had been some mothers involved, but they weren’t.
Still, we mark the anniversary every July 4th, and mainly celebrate that it’s a day off or, as Revere would have tweeted, “Three if by weekend.” We pause for parades and fireworks, and try to forget the realities of our nation 239 years later.
Frankly, the fear of a terrorist attack puts a bit of a pall on the festivities, certainly for those whose job it is to prevent one. Every year the threat gets more real. Another factor that dims the luster is a general malaise about how our political system has evolved.
Those who even bother to pay attention in the United States are bitterly divided between liberal and conservative points of view. Crowded out are those who take bits from both sides. Their moderate views and a spirit of accommodation are swept aside. Those in one camp or the other live on a constant roller coaster.
The left side of the barricades was on a high a week ago, because the Supreme Court — the same one that progressives reviled because of its Citizens United decision — in just two days ruled that a legislative semantic slip-up wouldn’t wipe out Obamacare, and then a decision allowing same-sex marriages to be the law of the land. “Well, maybe,” the lefties conceded, “some of the justices on the right aren’t all that bad.” That changed after just a weekend, when those same guys in robes decided to seriously rein in massive environmental regulations. “OMG, maybe they ARE that bad!”
The political seesaw also goes nonstop for conservatives. In the establishment wing, the polite right, the Chamber of Commerce was applauding Barack Obama of all people, because he had joined forces with them and their congressional GOP supporters to maneuver passage of trade bill “fast track” authority, which makes it easier to get a massive agreement with Pacific nations, sticking it to American workers. Then a day or so later, they were back to their routine of condemning him because he wanted to make it more difficult for businesses to cheat those workers out of overtime pay.
Oh yes, as we celebrate our nation’s birth, let us not forget that when it comes to money, we generally decide not to hang together but to hang separately, with employees and employers in a constant battle. Any remnant of established relationships is shredded by the same high tech that has brought us Twitter, Facebook, etc.
It’s only going to get worse. Borders mean nothing in cyberworld. The “course of human events” has brought us to where we are citizens of the world, trying to cling to rights and protections that explode like Roman candles — actually faster, with the instant click of a mouse.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.