Today is the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which served notice to the King of England that the Amercian colonies no longer served his rule. Today I hear people celebrating with firecrackers and read the words of those who say that the actions of our leaders have caused them to be ashamed of America.
I’ve had occasion to be embarrassed for my country, but never ashamed. It angers me a bit when I hear people accuse America of hypocrisy. To my view, that’s the crowning achievement of the United States.
First, it is not sin to fall short of a great ideal. We Americans have never done anything but fall short of the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence, signed 231 years ago. But how much better that is than to have exceeded low expectations!
Second, no matter what you may say (or how true it may be) that the power rests in the hands of the white heterosexual male protestants here, it is a nation defined by plurality. Perhaps that plurality was limited at the beginning, but a nation led in Washington, Adams, and Jefferson in succession certainly is no place that cannot abide by differences of opinion. While sometimes a bit annoying to hear people talk of Â«the founding fathersÂ» to further their own agendas, it is also amusing. For each who shouts, Â«this nation was founded by Christian idealsÂ» is another claiming that the founding fathers were deists, agnostics, or even atheists. Sure enough there’s documentary evidence to back each of them up. A look at the history of the Constitution and the early days of the Republic show the astounding lengths to which these men who agreed on very little and many more who agreed on less, went to create a system ruled by justice and the love of liberty.
A nation of great plurality must by necessity take on the appearance of hypocrisy. We have a great many interests, each with their voices heard at our capitols, each working out their compromises with one another. Even on the same day it is not unusual for contradictory laws to be passed or for branches of our government to clash with one another. This is our strength, though the messages are often mixed.
It is a testament to that commitment to ideals that a nation founded upon an uneasy agreement between free states and states that permitted slavery could become a nation where the great-grandchildren of slaves run industries and hold political office. Is that to pretend that we’re a color-blind society without greed or prejudice? Of course not, and anyone who thinks this nation can rest on the laurels of past achievement is blinding themselves to how short we have fallen of that ideal, so eloquently stated:
WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed…
Does this sound like an accurate description of the actions of our nation and society? Not at all. But much more so today than even a generation ago, and more so today than fifty years ago, or a hundred or two hundred. Perhaps less so today than ten years ago, but it’s not the first time that we’ve had setbacks in the pursuit of this ideal. There will always be those who do not consider their fellows to be their equals, and it is those who will most often make themselves available to serve as our leaders. There are dangers at home and abroad, and those influences often serve to cause us to waver from these ideals.
But that is, once and for all, what ideals are for: never to attain, but to strive toward. As poor a job as we sometimes do, I can’t think of better ideals for a nation than stated in our Declaration. These things I am proud to fall short of.
Happy Independence Day, and may God Bless America.