Independence Day

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 «the found­ing father­s» to fur­ther their own agen­das, it is also amus­ing. For each who shouts, «this nation was found­ed by Chris­t­ian ide­al­s» 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.

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