Reliving our Nation’s Independence

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The Bicentennial celebration at The White House held on July 7, 1976 for an official State Dinner where Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip joined President Gerald R. Ford and Mrs. Ford. Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022. Yesterday was a very warm sunny day at the end of a long, quiet holiday weekend where it’s assumed a lot of New Yorkers left town. There was a paucity of fireworks this year. I’m sure there’s an “explanation” but it simply added to the solace. The city is more impressive on these quiet summer days. You can take your time, look around and enjoy the view of  the city that never stops a-building.

The day had me thinking of previous Fourth’s that have impressed my memory. There was the Bicentennial of 1976. It was a very patriotic moment in the American psyche at the beginning of the last quarter of the century, and celebrated everywhere across the land. It brought an emerging confidence about the future that had been a long time coming.

Here’s a memory from the Fourth of July in 1988 in Los Angeles in a house on North Doheny which I shared at various times with friends, and others in the industry, where we often had gatherings to celebrate holidays and visitors passing through. We had two pianos as you can see. On the piano on the right is Bob Schulenberg who was a prodigy on the keys as a child but was finally distracted by his talent as an artist.

I was living in North Stamford, Connecticut, and had invited friends for the weekend, as well as friends who came from nearby towns for dinner. We dined on the terrace on a hillside overlooking treetops. All was green and fresh against the fading blue sky of dusk, and picture perfect in memory. It was a privileged moment for everyone there — all good friends, many still good friends — living amongst the abundance that many Americans of our generation had grown used to.

New York City celebrates the Declaration of Independence bicentennial anniversary on July 4, 1976.

It was also a privileged moment in America. In the 15 years preceding, we had come through a massive change as a society, rife with calls for liberations; and bedeviled by the Vietnam War, the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Dr. King, and Watergate, which finally brought the resignation of Richard M. Nixon. He had been replaced in 1973 by Rep. Gerald Ford who was appointed by Nixon as Vice-President after Spiro Agnew resigned from the office having been investigated by the United States Attorney for the District of Maryland on charges of extortion, tax fraud, bribery, and conspiracy. Agnew was charged with having accepted bribes totaling more than $100,000 while holding office as Baltimore County Executive.

Ford had a sunny but serious countenance, and a bit of Midwestern drawl — wrong word but you get the idea. He had a solemnity to his presence, and also a contemporary paternal quality. His generation fought in the World War. He was already famous to Americans, and well-liked for being a plain Midwesterner.

Gerald Ford at the Bicentennial Celebrations on July 4, 1976 in New York City.

Gerry Ford had a very nice wife, too — Betty — who had personal issues not uncommon to Americans and to women in particular. She confronted all of them publicly and courageously, lending dignity and stature to the rest of us with our problems.

They also had a healthy all-American-looking family of three young men and a young woman. American radio, television and movies in those days always had fictional series about the local, down-the-street-neighbors where Father Knows Best, Sanford and Son, or All In The Family and many others.  This was America’s ideal image of itself. The Fords were that family in the White House. They were so much that family that we didn’t even realize it at the time. They were nice, and like your neighbors or the neighbors of someone you know, real.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip joined President and Mrs. Ford at The White House to celebrate the Bicentennial.
Betty Ford and Prince Philip during the Bicentennial Celebration in 1976.

So the War was over, Nixon was gone, the social “liberations” had begun — and had taken hold — and would take us far beyond anything we could ever have imagined at that moment 46 years ago. And there we were that lovely summer evening in Connecticut, mainly in the prime of our lives, still youthful adulthood, well sheltered, fed and clothed, on that terrace among friends. There was an unspoken sense of safety and security around us at that moment in our lives.

At that same time, July 1976, the year of the Bicentennial in the United States, a peanut farmer from Georgia who had served as governor of that state, was running for President. I first saw him that June on a morning talk show, when I happened to be walking by the TV as he came on. 

“I’m Jimmy Carter, and I’m going to be President” were his first words introducing himself. He repeated those words hundreds, maybe thousands, of times in his campaigning. We had experienced lies and liars. Now we were going to experience truths. Or so we thought. Not everyone would agree of course.

I’m not sure if he actually said that “and I’m going to be…” but it felt that way. I believed him. Not that I was for him — I didn’t know anything about him — but there was a quiet self-confidence in his voice and manner, as if he were visionary, maybe even psychic. He ran against Gerry Ford and beat him by a small margin. However, Jimmy was an American family man too, like President Ford.

That was the mood of the country in 1976. We were the post-War generation, and yet we had seen a lot, experienced a lot, and now were back in the arms of stability. More than 46 years later, it is a far far different society from that which we were celebrating on that summer evening. Different enough to actually glimpse the state of evolution we are in as inhabitants on this planet. Of course we are older too, and learning what that is.

There are many ways to look at the world we live in now, but only history is the real witness. Because we are living in the future, at all times.

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