Reclaiming the Fourth: It’s not what the Trumpists believe

By Adam Kinzinger

Adam KinzingerBy tradition, the Fourth of July is celebrated with fireworks, parades, and flags. More recently, it has also become associated with a mash-up of fantasy, fascism, and resentment that Donald Trump and his followers mistakenly equate with patriotism. As they wave their Trump flags and dream of him persecuting their political opponents, they reveal a deep misunderstanding of the Declaration of Independence, which we celebrate, and the Founders who signed it.

In the cartoonish version embraced by angry Trumpists, the Declaration was merely a jab at King George III, who ruled tyrannically. The King’s offenses included occupying the colonies with his armies, impressing colonial sailors into naval service, and “ravaging” the seas and countryside. However, these grievances were not the Founders’ primary concern. Out of the 27 grievances listed in the Declaration, 15 were about the colonies being denied self-governance. In essence, the men who declared our independence sought to replace one-man rule with a nation governed by law.

Were they alive today, the signers would be shocked by Donald Trump’s ambition to become our first authoritarian ruler. They would be alarmed by the recent Supreme Court decision to expand the president’s immunity from the law and dismayed by the ignorance of Trump supporters regarding the Declaration’s contents, the men who signed it, and the historical context in which it was written.

Did you know, for example, that the Declaration criticized the King for restricting immigration to the colonies and the naturalization of foreigners? It also protested the military’s existence above civilian control and the monarch’s refusal to be governed by the law.

The drive for more immigration, the demand that no one be above the law, and civilian control over the military were expansive and innovative ideas that are anathema to the Trump movement and to Trump himself. He seeks to place himself above the law, use the military against civilians, and enforce draconian measures against immigration. In his 2020 Fourth of July speech, Trump ignored the generosity and civilized qualities of the signatories, instead viewing their lives through the lens of “unbridled ambition” rather than their commitment to decency and humble public service.

In an essay published this week by The Washington Post, Gordon Wood, one of our greatest experts on the Founders and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Radicalism of the American Revolution, describes them in terms that would be alien to those who supported Trump’s effort to overturn, by force, the results of the 2020 election. Wood agrees that these flawed men accomplished a towering achievement, not out of ambition, but out of a shared dream for a peaceful nation valuing mutual respect, service, decency, and dignity. He writes:

“America’s revolutionary leaders — by English standards, minor gentry at best — worked hard to adopt the new liberal characteristics that had come to define what it meant to be truly civilized — politeness, taste, sociability, learning, compassion and benevolence — and also what it meant to be good political leaders: an aversion to corruption and courtier-like behavior. These enlightened and classically republican ideals, values, and standards came to circumscribe and control their behavior.”

Among the Founders, there were no groveling courtiers like those surrounding Donald Trump from the start of his political career, exemplified by Vice President Mike Pence. The brave colonists who declared independence despised the corruption seen in Trump’s 34 felony convictions in a New York courtroom and in the behavior of corrupt and criminal supporters like Steve Bannon, Peter Navarro, Roger Stone, and Rudy Giuliani.

Unlike Trump and his followers, the Founders studied virtues and lived by them. It is rather astounding, in today’s environment, to think of leaders devoted to politeness, learning, compassion, or benevolence. While some conservatives retain these values and try to live up to them, Trump has transformed millions of formerly moderate and decent people into an angry mob that fetishizes the military aspects of the Revolution while ignoring its true purpose.

The Founders did not declare independence out of personal ambition, nor did they seek to replace one king with another. Instead, they dreamed of a nation of moral, respectful, and caring citizens. On this Fourth of July, let’s honor their vision with the respect it deserves. As we wave the flag, watch the parades, and enjoy the fireworks, let’s recommit ourselves to the pursuits they began.

If we don’t stand up for the true meaning of Independence Day, who will?

Husband, dad, pilot, Lieutenant Colonel in the Air National Guard, CNN Senior Political Commentator, former Congressman, and founder of