This Fourth of July will be celebrated like many others, with barbecues, picnics and fireworks.
But along with the traditional salute to Independence Day, the nation appears to be at a political turning point. It is one the Founding Fathers could not have predicted, but fortunately made preparations for.
This presidential election year has produced any number of surprises. It has left a trail of broken political hearts and a fractured Republican Party, and stunned Democrats leaning further to the left than they ever thought they’d have to.
Still standing are two presumptive nominees deeply disliked by the American public, for numerous reasons both real and imagined.
Regardless of that dislike, history will be made when either a billionaire businessman or a woman wins the presidency.
The voting public’s dissatisfaction of the status quo has created nervous ticks for politicians used to running the nominating process. Struggling low- and middle-class Americans and young people sent a message to both parties: no more business as usual.
These are unpredictable times, and that unpredictability is being heard around the world. Britain’s vote to leave the European Union could set off a stampede away from Europe’s political unity.
The unpredictability at home does not threaten our union, but the increasing focus on our political differences is making governing more difficult.
The Founding Fathers could not have foreseen a race between two candidates such as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, but they did put in place a system of government that would limit how far government could be pulled from the center. The presidency, Congress and the courts all have powers designed to prevent the worst excesses and provide balance in what sometimes seem to be unbalanced times. Whoever occupies the Oval Office is not a king and must abide by the Constitution.
Presidents may always fume about their inability to enact favored programs. Lame-duck President Obama has turned to executive orders where Congress has stalled his agenda. When that happens the Supreme Court is there to step in to head off executive overreach, as it did in blocking his executive order on immigration.
Executive orders date back to George Washington’s presidency (eight). Franklin Roosevelt issued around 3,700. Presidents have always pushed the envelope. Sometimes it gets deservedly pushed back.
As nasty as this election is shaping up to be, keep in mind that we have a tradition of vicious presidential campaigns through the years. And as unstable as the nation seems to be, we have survived far worse, including wars and economic calamities.
This election year is engaging Americans in our democratic process, one that has been evolving for 240 years, as they haven’t been in recent years.
At some point today – around the barbecue grill or at the picnic table – that process and those involved in it will likely come up in conversation.
It is part of what makes being an American great.