This Fourth of July: A Question of Patriotism and the Survival of Our Democracy

Bucks County military veteran Steve Nolan writes that for the first time in his life, he is approaching the Fourth of July with uncertainty about our freedoms and the existence of our Republic.
Photo courtesy of Borealia.

“We the people,” is how it starts. 

“In order to form a more perfect union,” it continues. 

This Fourth of July I ponder these words more seriously than ever before. In the middle of Congressional hearings about the first attempted coup in our nation’s history, I pull out the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and read. For the first time in my life, I feel compelled to do this as we approach this national holiday.

I am a career military officer, a Cold War Era baby, who remembers Sputnik, the nuclear arms race, and the “Domino Theory” of Communism. I am also a combat veteran of the War on Terror, so it surprises others when I state that in more than 30 years of service to my country I never once worried about the survival of the United States of America. 

In my early days in uniform friends would ask if I feared nuclear war with the USSR. I did not.  I knew that the leaders in Moscow and Washington did not want to commit suicide. More recently, when I was being rocketed by Taliban fighters I had zero fear the enemy was a serious threat to our existence. However, now, for the first time in my life, I approach the Fourth of July with uncertainty about our freedoms and the existence of our Republic, all because of the one enemy that Abraham Lincoln warned us about – the one that could rise up within our own shores. 

This summer I am exchanging messages with a man who was one of my best friends for 40 years, a college buddy, a rabble-rouser as a young man, who pulled himself together and became a medical doctor. He now pontificates about culture wars, and conspiracy theories that I can hardly believe a man of his intelligence could entertain. He makes predictions about Russia winning in Ukraine, about China taking Taiwan, about the possibility of Civil War in the United States. Yesterday, he proposed the idea of Red States and Blue States forming two separate countries. He is not pulling my leg.

I don’t want to be angry, I don’t want to add to the division by telling my old friend that his belief system has become anti-American, makes a mockery of everything so many have fought and died for, puts him within the ranks of domestic enemies to the Constitution I swore allegiance to for most of my adult life. I can’t seem to penetrate his bubble but I do know why it is happening – a personality came along, like in 1930s Germany, who put a spotlight on carnage, promised a return to greatness, and constantly griped about his struggle (his “kampf”) created by a slew of scapegoats supported by the lying press (“luggenpresse”). He was dedicated to cruelty over kindness, lies over truth, and division over unity. What I also know is that for the first time in American history we had someone mentally unfit for command, whose character structure and belief systems would have obligated us to discharge him from military service.

The United States military, in its wisdom, instituted a separate psychiatric discharge for personality disorder. We do not tolerate those who cannot get along with others, who circumvent mission, which requires teamwork and unity of purpose. We don’t tolerate someone who cannot tell the truth, who does not believe in the principles of the constitution we have sworn, even unto death, to defend. They ruin esprit de corps at a minimum, and have the potential to embarrass or disgrace the nation if put into combat zones. Until the 45th president, we never had a Commander in Chief who met all the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder and almost all the criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder. This character pathology is the reason why we had two impeachments and an attempted coup to overthrow the peaceful transfer of power and circumvent the will of 81 million Americans. And it is the reason why a 40-year friendship hangs by the thinnest threads, clings desperately to Lincoln’s prescription of malice toward none, charity for all. 

This Fourth of July I foster that formula, I hope and pray for unity to be restored, the unity I have always felt looking heavenward at fireworks exploding – light bursting in darkness, a celebration of freedom, warm feelings of domestic tranquility, a common bond of citizenship destined to continue as long as we have the will and the trust to “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

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Steve Nolan

Steve Nolan

Steve Nolan spent 30 years in the military and 25 years as a mental health professional. He has published in numerous journals and his poetry was featured on National Public Radio, Morning Edition, upon his return from Afghanistan in 2007. He is the author of “Go Deep,” “Base Camp,” and “American Carnage, An Officer’s Duty to Warn.” His work reflects his commitment to social justice.

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