Participating in the Fourth of July parades in Riverside and Brookfield, as the Landmark has done every year for the past 15 years, is a highlight. It’s a thrill to see familiar faces, and the not-so familiar, lining Longcommon Road in Riverside and Grand Boulevard in Brookfield, and to hear the good wishes (mainly) shouted in our direction.

The Fourth is a celebration of community and national unity — an annual affirmation of the audacious declaration of what the nation stands for, and against.

This year, the Fourth feels different.

The nation’s institutions and principles are under attack by a president and an administration hell-bent on abandoning our closest allies and embracing international pariahs.

In June, the president did his best to legitimize a murderous despot and shake the faith of our Pacific allies, Japan and South Korea, about our nation’s reliability in keeping the peace — a peace that is in our nation’s best interest.

 And in two weeks, that same president will go to Finland in order to kiss the ring of an autocrat who waged, and continues to wage, a coordinated campaign against free and fair elections in our country.

The president of the United States is courting Russia and North Korea while waging trade wars against the nation’s friends and allies. He is destabilizing NATO, a military alliance created by the United States and its allies after World War II to counter Soviet aggression, by treating it as if it were an international protection racket.

At home, there are members of the president’s cabinet who engage in brazen corruption, while an investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 campaign, which resulted in the president’s election, has produced a raft of indictments and guilty pleas — with more, no doubt, yet to come.

Despite it all, a craven, spineless Congress abets every abuse, from the president’s fondness for rounding up asylum seekers and placing them in concentration camps, to the president’s embrace of white supremacy, to his continued attacks on foundational institutions of this nation — especially the free press.

There is an election in November that is absolutely pivotal, the results of which can either begin the long march toward undoing the damage this administration has done to the fabric of the United States or aid in the nation’s slide toward autocracy.

Yes, that’s a startling statement, but all of the evidence points toward it. The situation is dire.

A year from now, we will all gather again to celebrate Independence Day. There will be parades and fireworks and picnics, just like any old year. 

The question is, what will be celebrating independence from?

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