Editor's note: Stephen Ndegwa is a Nairobi-based communication expert, a lecturer-scholar at the United States International University-Africa, and an author and international affairs columnist.
Like other similar anniversaries globally, the United States Independence Day signifies triumph from external domination. But the unprecedented chaos this year points to stressful celebrations as millions of Americans get stuck in airports around the country, signifying the insurmountable challenges that the citizens are grappling with.
According to the country's media, the travelling chaos caused and exacerbated by bad weather, staffing shortages and spiraling inflation have created the perfect storm. Indeed, the above challenges are symptomatic of what ails the superpower today. Further, the travelling chaos represents the U.S.' progress today - two steps forward, one step back. It also appears that the U.S. has been gradually clawing back the 1776 Declaration of Independence promise.
The superpower has also been losing its hitherto position as the world's socio-economic and political beacon due to the folly of its hegemonic pursuits. It is becoming increasingly impossible to walk its lofty talk due to the contradictions between its declarations and actions. Countries that have admired the U.S. are changing their ideologies and allegiance to more authentic beliefs.
The mounting challenges inform why former President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign mantra, "Make America Great Again," also known as MAGA, resonated with millions of Americans and catapulted him to the White House against all odds. But MAGA or similar versions of it have been used by other U.S. presidential candidates, the earliest being Ronald Reagan's "Let's Make America Great Again" in his successful 1980 presidential campaign.
Even away from matters of election, MAGA has been a rallying cry across the country. It will not be surprising if Americans re-elect Trump in the next presidential elections in 2024 as a protest to the status quo.
First, gun violence death rate in the U.S. is the highest in the developed world. Sadly, the police's hands in the U.S. are tied with endless legal and administrative obstacles. The frustration of law enforcement in the country is aptly narrated in an article published by New York Post on July 2 that says: "A 20-year decorated veteran of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) celebrated Independence Day a little early by retiring — and giving the department the finger." The officer talks of increased hostility toward police, calls to defund the NYPD and crackdowns on what cops could or could not do as too much to bear.
Secondly, the weather has not been kind to the U.S. over the past several years. The country has been devastated by new weather phenomena. In addition to the perennial California fires, the country has lately suffered a streak of severe weather, particularly floods associated with climate change.
According to a report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in January, about 700 Americans died from devastating extreme weather in 2021. The NOAA also noted that the worsening phenomenon caused $145 billion in damage. Rising temperatures in the U.S. have also been attributed to declining water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, and health impacts in cities due to heat. Despite frequent floods and storms the US Supreme Court felt it fitting to curb to the regulatory power of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Thirdly, the U.S. is reeling from racism. This is pronounced by the constant and deadly face-off between White police officers and African Americans. The climax of this conflict was the killing of George Floyd in police custody on May 2020, an incident that sparked not only a national but international outcry against police brutality on Blacks in the U.S.. It also resulted in the revival of the Black Lives Matter movement that seeks to highlight racism, discrimination and inequality experienced by black people.
Data from Statista shows that in 2021, there were 1,055 fatal police shootings, and in 2020 there were 1,021 fatal shootings. Black American casualties were much higher than that for any other ethnicity, standing at 39 fatal shootings per million of the population as of June 2022. It is a vicious war out on the streets - Akron city has canceled its July 4 celebrations after Ohio police allegedly fired over 90 rounds at unarmed 25-year-old Jayland Walker during a traffic chase on June 27.
Fourth, the U.S. is in a moral crisis. This is aptly symbolized by the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which gave women full abortion rights. Years of debate haven't reconciled the health, ethical, social, medical and religious conflicts that surround the practice. But for the U.S. to ban the decades-old practice indicates a moral folly and a deep desire for soul searching. It is a turning point and shows a dire need to mend the moral fabric of the American society, going beyond political convenience to do what is right.
The U.S. must rediscover its moral compass to avoid self-destruction. It is not too late to relearn and apply the virtues of compassion, which are actually the values that made America great.