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Fire alert

For the first responders

I had a strange mix of feelings watching the fireworks this July 4.

One is that, at age 71, I've seen a lot of fireworks. For sheer spectacle, I don't expect ever to see anything to match the extravaganza I viewed in 1976 from the Charles River Esplanade in Boston. Since I don't live in Boston, I'll probably miss the upcoming 250th anniversary explodapalooza in
2026. But Burlington, Vermont always puts on a respectable show. I've watched it the last few years from a post high above and about a mile away from the launch site on the city's waterfront on Lake Champlain. It's near enough to capture the prettiness and wowiness, far enough so the blasts don't hurt one's ears. Even though after six or seven decades my attitude is increasingly blasé, the eye candy always sucks me in. It's fun.

This year, I also was unusually conscious of the occasion that the celebration purportedly commemorates. It has become a festival of the mild forms of hedonism symbolized by burgers, hot dogs, potato salad, and bug dope, enlivened by a more or less innocent dose of mindless nationalism. Time has caused us to lose touch, for the most part, with the desperate radicalism of the Declaration of Independence. Latter-day struggles among us over race, gender, identity, a strong latent streak of authoritarianism, and an even stronger and anything but latent streak of religious fanaticism, have obscured the democratic and egalitarian impulses, however hypocritically and imperfectly realized and tainted by self-interest, that motivated the generation of 1776 in its break with the British monarchy.

Maybe I had a heightened consciousness of the Fourth's historical roots because of the Supreme Court's astonishing abdication of its role as protector of the rule of law in the week just past. Democracy does not exist for long without the rule of law. Egalitarianism's road is immeasurably harder without it. In the past week, the Roberts Court had untethered itself from the Constitution, from the most basic rules of jurisprudence, from the constraints on statutory interpretation inherent in the laws' actual language, and from fidelity to factual reality. (See "Sucker punch after sucker punch.")

The Roberts Court has stopped being a court. Roberts, paying hypocrisy’s traditional tribute to virtue, gave the thinnest veil of lip service to some of what he was abandoning. Gorsuch didn't bother with that much. The six-member Court majority, whom the media, with their unerring instinct for obstinate mischaracterization, continue to call "conservative," had launched itself upon a course divorced from precedent and devoid of actual principle; as dangerous as the fireworks I was watching, with their empty brilliant rings and evanescent globes that, if a spark from them lands in the wrong place, can burn down all you hold dear.

I don't know where this goes. I'm feeling a lot of cognitive dissonance between the event we were celebrating and what the Supreme Court has done. It makes me queasy. We're living in a nation whose highest court, that self-styled temple of justice, has given up even aspiring to the rule of law. It's pretty easy to identify several circles of hell to which Dante, were that devoutly religious man of iron integrity and profound humanity alive today, could consign Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett, and Thomas. They all lie in the regions of fraud and betrayal. But where does that leave the rest of us?

When a group of people risks life and fortune to found its identity on statements like "All men are created equal," it's awfully hard to take those words back, and impossible to prevent their echoing evolution through succeeding generations. For this reason, if for no other, I have hope that the Roberts Court's damage to our aspirations for government of the people, by the people, and for the people will be limited, that its decisions eventually will be consigned to the dustbin of history, and that the religious zealots, partisan hacks, and nihilists comprising its majority will be despised and then forgotten by all but historians, as they deserve to be.