If you’re like many of your neighbors, your top-of-mind
concerns for Independence Day 2019 are the weather forecast, tonight’s Dubuque fireworks extravaganza, whether you have enough charcoal or LP gas for tomorrow’s backyard barbecue and what time to head to the Ham House for the annual ice cream social.
Such is not the case in many — far too many — other places in the world.
Not only do they not have Independence Day, they do not have independence.
While we might have fireworks, cookouts and cool desserts on our minds, there are people the world over for whom freedom is only a dream.
Indeed, some of the most egregious restrictions on citizen freedom are taking place in major countries with which the United States — or at least the president — has had friendly interactions.
China recently stifled observances marking 30 years since the brutal crackdown on democracy-
seeking students in Tiananmen Square. In the disputed territory of Hong Kong, protesters destructively resisting Chinese rule were routed from a government building by police using tear gas. The Chinese government’s mistreatment of Muslim Uyghurs, Christians and other religious groups is ongoing and, according to multiple reports, intensifying.
Meanwhile, President Trump announced that talks to address the U.S.-China trade dispute will resume.
Oppression of citizens is a longstanding reality in Russia, where the government tightly controls virtually everything, including journalists and their media outlets.
Meanwhile, President Trump met briefly in Japan with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and joked about Russian meddling in U.S. elections. Trump also joked (we hope) about eliminating journalists. “Get rid of them. Fake news is a great term, isn’t it?” Trump said to Putin. “You don’t have this problem in Russia, but we do.” Putin replied, “It’s the same” and, according to Bloomberg News reporter and former Iowan Jennifer Jacobs, the two world leaders “shared a chuckle.”
What better way to mark the one-year anniversary of the massacre of five employees of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md.
Meanwhile, at the start the week of that includes our Independence Day, our president took 20 historic steps into North Korea to have a photo-op with his on-again/off-again friend, Kim Jong Un, dictator over the most totalitarian country of them all, North Korea. The family of the late Otto F. Warmbier, the American college student arrested and imprisoned in North Korea before being returned home to die in 2017, must have been thrilled.
We hope that the president’s recent actions reflect his endorsement of the Machiavellian adage, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Indeed, it’s better to be in communication with one’s adversaries, or potential adversaries, than to shut off all contact whatsoever. We won’t end a trade war or head off nuclear annihilation without communication and negotiation. That must be kept in mind.
However, when making these entreaties with these oppressors, it would have been appropriate for President Trump to draw that distinction between freedoms in their countries and ours.
Even if the president doesn’t take that opportunity, that should not excuse us from pondering this point this Independence Day: The U.S. has a democracy, laden with freedoms that other people would die for — and do.
We all should be humbly thankful for what we have.