Breese Stevens Field fireworks (copy)

Fireworks at the Festival Foods Lights the Isthmus Independence Day celebration at Breese Stevens Field in 2021. 

My dad's favorite holiday was the Fourth of July.

He followed to a tee Founding Father John Adams' passionate decree on the eve of the signing of the Declaration of Independence that the day should be honored “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forevermore."

And so it's been for the 246 years since. Americans exalted in their forefathers' courage and determination to break away from an autocratic royalty and launch a government that was truly an experiment — handing control of government over to the people themselves.

They honored the birth of the nation just as John Adams suggested, with parades, festivals, sports events, picnics and stunning displays of fireworks. My dad never tired of those displays, imagining it must have been something like that when the nation was founded. Like so many other American citizens, he set off a few fireworks himself.

I remember those celebrations and the ones we created ourselves with kids and grandkids through the years. If nothing else, they all reminded us of the greatness of our country and the day that brought it all about.

Oh, how well we know now that it wasn't perfect, the Founders, indeed, were not perfect. But they poured the foundation and it was up to America's succeeding generations to build on that.

And frankly, albeit with a disappointing number of fits and starts, I think we did just that. But on this Fourth of July in 2022 I wonder if we are in danger of destroying what we're celebrating this weekend.

What seems so different now from all those other Independence Days is how many of our fellow citizens have lost faith in the basic tenet of American democracy: the sanctity of our elections and from that, the peaceful transfer of power to whoever is the winner.

According to the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of adults think other Americans have little or no confidence in the federal government.

What's more astonishing, though, is an unshakable belief by millions of Americans that the last presidential election was somehow stolen. We can blame that on the lies told, and which are still being told, by Donald Trump. What's worse is that so many politicians, all of whom should know better, are willing to back those lies.

A new NPR/Ipsos poll finds that 64% of Americans believe U.S. democracy is "in crisis and at risk of failing." That sentiment, according to NPR, is felt most acutely by Republicans: Two-thirds of GOP respondents agree with the verifiably false claim that "voter fraud helped Joe Biden win the 2020 election." And no amount of evidence, no amount of proof to the contrary can shake that belief.

Here in Wisconsin we recounted the 2020 presidential election. The results? Joe Biden gained 132 votes, yet few minds were changed.

As Andrew Cahall of the Columbus Academy wrote, "Each and every time any political candidates stand up and allege voter fraud without any proof, they cast tiny shadows of doubt over that election’s legitimacy. Multiply that by thousands of elections and baseless perjury claims, and the shadow becomes a whole lot larger."

But as someone pointed out in a panel discussion about elections, if Americans don't trust elections, there is no democracy.

And that's precisely what bothers me on our nation's 246th birthday.

My dad would have been appalled.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@captimes.com, 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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