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.
Is James Otis, a man once seen as a vanguard of liberty, now so utterly forgotten as to be absolutely useless? I can’t help but think that his essay Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved still has meaning in a world where despots crack down on men and women who dare to believe they are entitled to self-government.
The form of government is by nature and by right so far left to the individuals of each society that they may alter it from a simple democracy or government of all over all to any other form they please. Such alteration may and ought to be made by express compact. But how seldom this right has been asserted, history will abundantly show. For once that it has been fairly settled by compact; fraud, force, or accident have determined it an hundred times. As the people have gained upon tyrants, these have been obliged to relax only till a fairer opportunity has put it in their power to encroach again.
Those who believe that the past, that our past has nothing to teach us, aren’t just woefully ignorant. They’re willfully ignorant, choosing to remain blissfully unaware of the sacrifices that their ancestors and countrymen have made in order to make this nation stronger with each passing generation. The United States of America has earned its place in history not through the efforts of reality television stars and Hollywood celebrities, but through the grinding perseverance of soldiers at Yorktown, Gettysburg, Okinawa, and Omaha Beach. Through the innovation and entrepreneurship of Eliza Pickney and Eli Whitney, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford. And by the scores of men, women, and children whose names are lost to history, but who toiled daily to make this country a beacon of light to the rest of the world.
If that America is truly no longer relevant, then let us at least spend this Independence Day mourning its death. Weep when you hear the “Star Spangled Banner,” because the broad stripes and bright stars are now tattered and torn. If it still breathes, however, then let us mend it back to strength. Let us be bold in our endeavors, firm in our beliefs, steadfast in our resolve. Let us remember the words of Thomas Paine, who exhorted a people not to revolt, nor to wage war, but to act. The pamphlet urged independence, it’s true. But independence was a means to an end, the last resort of a people whose government wouldn’t listen. The problem wasn’t the crown or parliament, but how the two managed the affairs of the colonies.
The good news is that we don’t need independence from a parent country. The bad news is that we need something that may prove to be more difficult to achieve. We need the perspective that comes with maturity. We need, quite frankly, to grow up. We can no longer afford to indulge ourselves as children would, blithely assuming that if anything bad happens, someone will come along to fix it. We cannot continue to spend money we do not have. We cannot allow one or two foreign nations to grow more powerful by buying up our property and financing our debt.
The wars our fathers and grandfathers fought to secure the greatness of this nation have long since passed. Our more recent wars have not required the sacrifice and resolve of the entire people, and so they have not imbued in us the same fierce loyalty and dedication that was common just a few decades ago. Since the end of the cold war, most of us have allowed ourselves to think that we have no strong enemies. It has been nearly eight years since the attacks of September 11, and many of us have convinced ourselves that terrorism shouldn’t be one of our primary concerns. It is a lovely thought, but one that is not borne out by reality.
Perspective has been replaced, in both foreign and domestic policy, by mere desire. Public opinion means far more than practical benefit. The dangers of this kind of thinking are clear. We are perfectly capable, as our countrymen from California have shown, of voting ourselves into oblivion. Yet even in California they would still rather mourn the death of the King of Pop than the decline of their state.
I know it isn’t going to be easy to change Amehrica. Success is certainly not guaranteed. In fact, to be honest, I think it’s a nearly impossible task. Still, our other option is to quietly acquiesce to our downfall, to be known not as the heirs of the Greatest Generation, but the Generation That Lost It All. Reclaiming our nation starts locally, as others like Jim Geraghty and Glenn Reynolds have noted, but it takes more than just attending your city council or county commission meeting. All politics is local after all, and the same 300 people who rally at a tea party protest and attend their city council meetings can have great influence in their political party at the local level as well.
We must no longer cede our urban centers to our opposition. Detroit, Buffalo, Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans, Oakland, and San Francisco are just a few of our major cities that have gone more than forty years without a Republican mayor. Can new ideas flourish in a system where one party exercises its power through the political machine? These towns have been run for generations by so-called progressives. Let me ask you, does Detroit look like it’s progressed much since 1962?
We are in desperate need of leaders, but we need ideas even more. We live in extraordinary times, and we should not be afraid of bold thoughts honestly and intelligently debated. We need not fear new ideas, as long as they are based on timeless principles. It’s not like the idea of independence was a slightly new twist on an old policy, after all.
This is not the work of a single political party, ideology, ethnicity, or pedigree. It is, quite simply, the work of a generation. This Independence Day, will you pledge your life, your fortune, and your sacred honor to the restoration of American liberty, the resurgence of American prosperity, and our duty to our American posterity?