Civil Liberties

Juneteenth Is a Good Holiday. Of Course the Government Is Screwing It Up.

Yet more evidence that we are ruled by incompetents.


Making Juneteenth a national holiday really ought not to be controversial or complicated. Unfortunately, our political culture is dominated by a collection of incompetents and imbeciles for which nothing can pass without screw-ups and unnecessary outrage.

Juneteenth—long celebrated in parts of America's black culture on June 19 but increasingly crossing over in the mainstream, as Reason's Zuri Davis detailed—marks the day in 1865 that the Union Army marched into Galveston, Texas, and freed roughly 250,000 slaves. Over the years, it has become a celebration of the snuffing out of chattel slavery within the United States, a moment when the high ideals celebrated on the Fourth of July became more real. It's about freedom. And, as you've probably heard by now, it is America's newest federal holiday thanks to a piece of legislation that President Joe Biden signed earlier this week.

That's wonderful. Happy Juneteenth.

Here's what's not so wonderful. The official designation of a new national holiday just days before it arrives has triggered government officials' most powerful instinct: their desire to get paid for not doing work. With alacrity previously unfathomable, federal bureaucrats have rushed to give themselves a three-day weekend. Most of the federal government is shut down today.

No one will be too broken up about one fewer day of IRS audits or Department of Labor regulation-making or whatever it is they do at the Department of Commerce. But the rush to unexpectedly observe a new holiday does cause problems in the places where normal people, unfortunately, have no choice but to interact with the government.

Like public schools, some of which suddenly announced on Thursday that classes were canceled on Friday. Sorry, parents who have to suddenly call off work or find alternative arrangements for your kids.

Courts, too, are affected. That means hearings have been postponed at the last minute and some people who might otherwise have been freed on Friday will have to spend the long weekend in jail. What is Juneteenth celebrating again? Oh, right.

None of these disruptions are the fault of Juneteenth or those who rightfully wanted to make the holiday a permanent part of America's annual observances, of course. It's just standard-issue government incompetence and another example of officials' general disregard for the people whose hard work actually funds bureaucrats' and teachers' paychecks.

But if the incompetents haven't totally ruined your Juneteenth good mood, save some room for the imbeciles who are determined to fold this long-overdue recognition of Juneteenth into their tinfoil-hat theories about the destruction of American values. As if "celebrating human freedom from bondage" wasn't a quintessential American value.

People like Rep. Matt Rosendale, (R–Mont.), one of the 14 Republican members of Congress who voted against designating Juneteenth as a federal holiday. According to him, this is just another squelchy step down the slippery slope of socialism.

"Replace the Fourth of July." C'mon. The federal government still recognizes Columbus Day—and good luck clawing that extra three-day weekend away from America's hard-working bureaucrats.

Sure, there's massive cognitive dissonance in the fact the federal government now celebrates both the end of slavery and a guy who did a whole lot of enslaving (and worse). But does anyone expect ideologically consistent positions from the federal government?

Still, some culture warring conservatives are seriously leaning into this argument in really bizarre ways. Here's Charlie Kirk, head of Turning Points USA, condemning the decision to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

And here's Charlie Kirk on several other occasions celebrating the importance of Juneteenth, because the end of slavery is worth celebrating.

Why the change? It might have to do with the fact that being mad about stuff is pretty much the only unifying principle that remains in some conservative circles. That beast must be fed even if it means getting angry at positions that you yourself held just 12 months ago.

Or it might just be the brain-rotting effects of partisanship. Kirk's old tweets echo something that former President Donald Trump liked to talk about at his campaign rallies—often as if he'd only just discovered this fact. Lincoln was a Republican, and Republicans freed the slaves. Relatedly, it was politicians with "D" next to their names who by-and-large were responsible for and defended the awfulness of Jim Crow and post-Reconstruction institutionalized racism.

What does that mean in 2021? A whole lot of nothing, because political parties aren't inherently moral or immoral entities. The goal of politics isn't to add up points for your side over the course of national history and then gesture at the scoreboard. It's to maximize human freedom and flourishing right now.

Sometimes that requires kicking the crap out of people who believe it's cool to own other human beings. Sometimes that means recognizing, officially, that the end of slavery in the country was kind of a big deal. Doing so doesn't undermine American values or replace the significance of the Fourth of July. Heck, if we could celebrate an expansion of human freedom once a week, I'd be down for that.

You know what? Tell the IRS they can take every Friday off.