As parents, we can have no joy, knowing that this government is not sufficiently lasting to ensure any thing which we may bequeath to posterity: And by a plain method of argument, as we are running the next generation into debt, we ought to do the work of it, otherwise we use them meanly and pitifully. In order to discover the line of our duty rightly, we should take our children in our hand, and fix our station a few years farther into life; that eminence will present a prospect, which a few present fears and prejudices conceal from our sight.
— Thomas Paine
Two hundred and thirty-three years ago, our founders celebrated the birth of a new country. This weekend, some of us, inspired by their example, will once again take to the streets to plead with our elected leaders to listen to the people in a time of crisis. Most of us, however, will not. America has turned into Amehrica, land of the freaks and home of the blasé. It’s not that nothing seems to faze us anymore; it’s that nothing of importance seems to even register with large chunks of the populace.
Who cares if we’re offering platitudes about the best chance at reform in Iran that we’ve seen in our lifetimes? Jon and Kate are getting a divorce! Who cares if a nuclear nation run by a tyrant is threatening us? Perez Hilton got a black eye from a Black Eyed Pea! Who cares if a sweeping piece of legislation gets a vote without lawmakers having read the bill? Michael Jackson died!
How can a country that cares more about the deaths of pop stars and pitchmen than the death of responsibility and the crippling of our economic future remain strong? How can we survive in a world where we view ourselves, our allies, and our enemies as occupying the same moral ground?
It has become fashionable, in these cynical times, to think that America was never really good, much less great. How could this nation be great, it is argued, when it was founded by men who spoke of freedom, and yet kept other men in chains? How can this nation hold itself above others, when our own history is replete with sinful behavior? Indeed, we are told that to believe in American exceptionalism is to dwell in a state of ignorance. Only the truly “enlightened” know the truth; it is arrogance that Americans excel at, not greatness.
I have seen this attitude on display quite frequently lately. Even our president has scoffed at the notion of American exceptionalism. I say if America is no longer exceptional, then we have only ourselves to blame, for this nation has been great before, and it can be great again. We are not a nation without sin or blame, but a full and honest reckoning of our history, and the history of mankind, will show that the United States compares remarkably well to the barbarism other civilized nations have reverted to in recent decades.
This weekend, as we grill our hot dogs and set off Roman candles (for those of us lucky enough to live in states that still allow individuals to purchase those dastardly pyro-death sticks), will we remember why we celebrate Independence Day? Will we remember the fact that the men who signed the Declaration of Independence knew that they were putting their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor at risk by stating that the time had come to govern themselves? Will we stop to think about the sheer size of the gamble that these men, their wives, and hundreds of thousands like them all took in hope that the freedom they would gain for themselves and their posterity would be worth the incredible risk?
It may be hard to put ourselves in their shoes. After all, these were people who would make the most ardent Obama supporter seem woefully apathetic in comparison. They were engaged in a political revolution, a civil war, and a philosophical battle in which alliances could not be so easily divided into two parties. In fact, I’ve had friends say to me recently that there’s simply no comparison that can be drawn between that era and our own, that time and technology have made attempts at drawing parallels between the two utterly useless.
It’s true that the world has changed, but mankind is still the same. Do the words of James Monroe in 1788 have no resonance today?
How prone all human institutions have been to decay; how subject the best-formed and most wisely organized governments have been to lose their check and totally dissolve; how difficult it has been for mankind, in all ages and countries, to preserve their dearest rights and best privileges, impelled as it were by an irresistible fate of despotism.