Just after the American colonists unleashed a formal declaration of independence, a giddy John Adams said this of the coming victory:

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever.”

Did the dude call it, or what?

Of course, it’s all about context. As Adams raved about the glories of independence, the young nation was about to break with Great Britain forever. Bye-bye, oppression. So long, being told what to do, when to do it and how it should be done. For the first time in their history, the colonists would not be subjects. You can hardly blame them for lighting torches, jumping up and down and making things go bang.

And as Adams predicted, we’re doing the very same things two centuries plus change later. We run around with sparklers in each hand and send pyrotechnics exploding into the sky. We wave flags and sing songs and barbecue everything slow enough to be put on the grill.

But what are we celebrating, exactly? We’re living in a time when the government spies on us without abandon. They listen to our calls, read our emails and watch us with drones. We’ve got our NSA, your DHS, your NDAA and your Patriot Act nudging us toward a police state and what lies beyond. Your government, the one you celebrate with firecrackers and 12-packs of beer, can jail you any time, without reason and for as long as they’d like, thanks to the mother of all un-American laws passed quietly, with very little protest or discussion, at the start of 2012.

If you grow your own food, complain about the government, hoard water or ardently support the Second Amendment, they can brand you a terrorist and send you away. You know, for your own protection.

You’ve got the Department of Homeland Security turning small-town police departments into armies, assembled to fight not foreign enemies but domestic ones. The protesters. The disgruntled vets. The Christians who embrace their beliefs a little too tightly. Your neighbors, in other words. Your family.

If you assemble to protest this assault on liberty, they’ll confine you to “2nd Amendment zones” and then do everything they can to silence your dissent. Water cannons, sonic weapons to batter your eardrums, high-powered beams of light designed to blind you. They say you still have First Amendment rights, but they’ll make you go through hell if you want to use them.

Think you’re safe if you just stay home? Forget it, bub. Those new militarized cops have been almost lusty about no-knock warrants as of late, crashing down doors in the middle of the night and throwing stun grenades like confetti. Problem is, every now and then, it’s the wrong door that gets pounded off its hinges and the wrong people are sleeping behind them. A 92-year-old woman killed over here, an infant burned by a poorly lobbed grenade over there.

There used to be a few thousand no-knock raids each year, raids coordinated to capture only the most dangerous among us. Now even tiny towns across the nation have some form of SWAT team and all together they get down to the no-knock level as much as 80,000 times per year, by some estimates.

We have a standing army now. We didn’t ask for it. We were never asked to vote on the matter, but there it is, marching up Main Street like George Orwell’s worst nightmare.

They’ll grope you — or your daughter, your mother or dear old grampa — at the airports. They’ll paw you, humiliate you and make sure that you fully understand you are guilty until proven otherwise. Because, terrorists! Our heroic government will probe our bodies and our minds and what are you going to do about it? You know how it goes: If you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists, so pull down your pants and wait for the rubber glove like a good serf.

It’s “1984” all up in here. In fact, it’s worse than that spooky work of fiction because we walked so willingly into the trap. Cameras on every corner? Sure! That’ll help eliminate crime! Tracking devices in our phones, our cars and our homes? By all means, government. I have nothing to hide.

They played us, brother, and our eyes were wide open the whole time. They divided us like wedge-shaped pieces of a warm apple pie. They got us arguing over racism, political correctness and the farce that is the two-party system. They keep us fighting over gun rights, abortion, gay marriage, and while we’re at each other’s throats, they’re off doing wicked things in full daylight.

The president and his people are there for us to scream at when things go bad, and that works out just fine, because if all we see is them, we’re sure to overlook the bankers and corporate leaders who really run this show. As long as we’re eyeball deep in “Jersey Shore” and “Mystery Millionaire,” we won’t notice how the FDA is running amok or how rich the elite few are getting off the perpetually running war machine.

We’ve let them poison our water and our food. How can you blame them for wondering how far they can go? How far they can push us. This slow-motion takeover has been going on for years and we’ve uttered hardly a word of protest.

“I believe,” James Madison observed, “there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

At Old Orchard Beach one recent evening, I saw a T-shirt that seemed to be designed just for me. On it were two boxes, one marked Republican, the other, Democrat. Those boxes were empty, while a third box marked “Pissed off” had a bold red check slashed through it.

Yes, indeed. I’m perhaps the least political person in the world and yet I see all of this bad business coming down upon us. How is it that some folks don’t see it at all? How can you miss it? It’s like sitting on a sinking ship and somehow ignoring the cold black water rising around you.

It’s sad, all of it. I don’t want to be here casting light on dark things. I want to celebrate the Fourth just as I’ve always done. I want to eat corn on the cob typewriter style and talk, with bits of corn stuck between my teeth, about how awesome it is to be free.

I love my country, sure enough; just, not this version of it. This version is a dystopian horror movie starring me and starring you. Don’t believe it? Wait awhile. Blink a few times after the smoke of celebration clears and you’ll see it sure enough.

It’s real hard to miss these days.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. Email him at [email protected], but know that he’s not the only one reading that message.