On this Independence Day let me say that I do think this is a great country. But its not a perfect country. There's no such thing. Its impossible for us humans to create such a thing. But this is a great country founded on the greatest of ideals: individual liberty and the idea that we are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights that even the government cannot infringe upon. These are human rights. Rights that are ours inherently: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit (not necessarily the attainment) of happiness, the freedom of religion (not just of worship), the freedom of speech (and thought). They are not granted to us by the State. No State can take them away. If a State tries to take them away or curtail them then that State is no longer legitimate and deserves no allegiance. The legitimate State can only respect and defend those rights.
And in the United States, the State is us. We elect the
politicians that get sent to D.C. and the state capitals... the
representatives, the senators, the governors, the president. They are
there because of us. When they do well, we have chosen wisely. When
they don't, we need to correct things. And those great ideals
expressed in our founding documents outline a way to make those
corrections. Elections. Casting ballots. Petitioning the
government. We've managed to do it fairly peacefully for a couple
hundred years now. I pray it continues that way.
We've not always lived up to those great ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. And by "we" I mean both us, individually, and us, collectively, as embodied by the government. They are ideals worth striving for. The fact that we've imperfectly lived those ideals is not a reason to scrap them. Its a reason for us to double down on striving for them. We'll never achieve perfection. But trying to live up to "the better angels of our nature" will bring us closer to living up to those grand ideals.
We're not always living up to those ideals right now. Its time for us to start correcting things. It was time decades ago. Now I understand that for some of you the things that need correction are going to be the polar opposite of the things I and others think deserve some correction. That's OK. Its OK as long as we all still agree in those great ideals and the outline for living by those ideals expressed in our country's founding documents. I don't think you want to live in a country where those are not the ideals by which we govern ourselves. Look around the world, there are ample case studies of countries that don't govern themselves this way and its not pleasant.
One of the assumptions of our country's founding was that we could govern ourselves. Its an assumption that we could disagree... even disagree vehemently and vociferously... while still considering ourselves fellow Americans. And I say this to both sides in our currently very polarized political environment... Its an assumption that we could disagree without considering the other side evil, without demonizing the other side to such a degree that we could justify going to any lengths in order to defeat them. When we do that we fail to live up to this country's founding ideals. That way leads to violence, civil war and the end of the American experiment in self-government. And more importantly, when we do that we will begin to lose our liberty... and ultimately, our humanity. I do not attribute evil intent to the opposition. I give the benefit of the doubt to them. I assume they believe that what they do is good and protects the liberty of all yet remains within the bounds of limited government set forth in our founding documents. I assume they are sincerely acting upon those beliefs with the best of intentions. I just believe they are sincerely wrong... not sincerely evil. They are mistaken... not would-be tyrants. By holding wrong ideas and acting upon them, they are no less human. Yes, they need to be defeated at the ballot box and in Congress and at all levels in government. But their existence and their mistaken ideas do not justify using any means to defeat them, especially means that do violence to the very ideals I find so important. I truly hope that all people on all sides believe and act this way. I fear that this belief might be fading across the political spectrum, however. Don't let this happen. If it does happen, it will be the end of this country.
Another of the assumptions of our country's founding that follows from self governance is that of being the "loyal opposition" and being graceful in defeat. Nobody is going to go through life in a democracy always having their position on any given issue coming out on top because that would not be democracy, it would be tyranny. Losing a vote on an important bill, issue, or election is not a reason to gather with pitchforks and torches and start gathering feathers and heating up the tar-pot. Yes, because we are not perfect as a species, it is possible that some laws (or regulations) might be passed that truly do infringe on some of our liberties. We must work to correct this when it happens with the tools our founding documents have given us. Every legislative or electoral defeat is not an excuse for a Second American Revolution.
Liberty and self-governance (both individual and national) implies responsibility. We are responsible for maintaining our own liberty. It implies risk. We may mistakes. We may make mistakes so big that we imperil or destroy our liberty. There's no guarantee. Remember, its the "pursuit" of happiness that's a right, not a "guarantee" of it. But that's not a reason scrap the whole "liberty and self-government" thing and be ruled by tyrants and kings. Its a reason to be careful and thoughtful. Its a reason to be willing to backtrack. To be willing to say, "oops, we tried this and its not working out so well, so we'll stop doing this now". To say, "oops, we elected this guy and he turned out to be a loser so we won't elect him again". It takes thought and reason and patience. If we throw up our hands and say we want a revolution, you can count me out. That only opens the door for the tyrants and kings.
Anyone who says, upon seeing their side lose a legislative or electoral vote, that they are leaving the country, giving up their citizenship or anything else of that ilk is just being a child throwing a temper tantrum. Let us be adult examples that show them how to grow up and become an adult.
So in the spirit of what I just wrote, let me say the following to those that I disagree with:
I don't hate you. I don't think you are the spawn of Satan. I don't think you are the second coming of Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, or Mao Zedong. I hope that don't think that about me. I do, however, disagree with your ideas for how we should govern ourselves, for how society should operate and so forth. But we can still live together peacefully, civilly and amiably, if not in full agreement with each other, if at the end of the day we still pledge to continue living by the ideals embodied in our founding documents.
But let anyone who says that its time to change our form of government, that its time to throw away or curtail these antique ideals of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, limited government and so forth... let them know that the Spirit of '76 still lives. Don't poke the bear.
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