Ruminations on Independence...Again...

It is Independence Day. It was on this day that we said "Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," and informed the British Crown that they had become destructive to the people, and it was our right abolish this form of government and found a new one. This document, which we celebrate Jefferson for writing, truly derives its verbiage and lofty ideals from Locke, Montesquieu, and the Scottish Enlightenment, as Jefferson himself claimed throughout his life. It is not a document of original thought, but rather a document of revolutionary intentions, borrowing the thoughts and ideas of previous writers.

Today, those ideals are under assault. I live a country where we attempt to project strength by parading tanks through our capital. I live in a country where my government is running concentration camps. I live in a country where the truths we once held as self-evident, that all men are created equal, are under assault by those who would spread hatred, and who would assault the rights of those who are not the same as them. I live in a country where racial divisions grow worse, where nationalism is on the rise, where religion is forced upon those who wish to choose their own belief system. A recent Gallup poll showed that only 45% of Americans are "Extremely Proud" to be Americans. I am not in that 45%. Another 25% said they were "Very Proud" to be American. I am not in that 25%. I love my country. I honor her military. I honor her flag. I honor the spirit in which she was founded and the ideals which we fought for. I can no longer be proud of her. I am not proud of the self-manufactured humanitarian crisis on our southern border. I am not proud of government attacks on members of the LGBTQ+ community, or racial and religious minorities. I am not proud of a country which seeks to eliminate the Fourth Estate, nor am I proud of a Fourth Estate who has eschewed their duties to the Republic in exchange for partisan politics. I am not proud of my government. I am not proud of a President who was elected by a minority vote and has taken this country down a dangerous path of scientific denial, institutionalized religion, and madman games of chicken with leaders of enemy states. I am not proud of Congress, so caught up in partisan politics that they are either unable or unwilling to govern. I am not proud of a Supreme Court who has chosen to be bound by personal belief and partisanship, rather than the rule of law. Today, Congressman Justin Amash (I-MI3) declared his independence from a Republican Party who is so caught up in the maintenance of power that they are no longer willing to govern in the manner of Republicans; individual freedom and limited government. I am not yet willing to leave my own party, but I'm getting close. Partisan politics are the antithesis of what it means to be American. George Washington warned us of the dangers of partisan politics during his farewell address, and yet I don't believe he could have predicted the depths to which we would fall.

"I was no a party man myself, and the first wish of my heart was, if parties did exist, to reconcile them." - George Washington, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson. Washington's beliefs on this were largely drawn from Joseph Addison, who was a regular contributor to the Spectator, published in London. Addison wrote about the bloody civil wars of the 1640s in an essay entitled The Malice of Parties. Parts of it are very relevant to the America we live in today. "There cannot a greater judgment befall a country than a dreadful spirit of division as rends a government into two distinct people, and makes them greater strangers, and more averse to one another, than if they were actually two different nations. The effects of such a division are pernicious to the last degree, not only with regard to those advantages which they give the common enemy, but to those private evils which they produce in the heart of almost every particular person. This influence is very fatal both to men’s morals and their understandings; it sinks the virtue of a nation, and not only so, but destroys even common sense. A furious party spirit, when it rages in its full violence, exerts itself in civil war and bloodshed; and when it is under its greatest restraints, naturally breaks out in falsehood, detraction, calumny, and a partial administration of justice. In a word, it fills a nation with spleen and rancor, and extinguishes all the seeds of good nature, compassion and humanity." This has gotten long, so let me wrap it up, since no one is reading anything this long on their holiday anyway. I love this country. I want to be proud of it. I want to live in a place where the government again draws its powers from the consent of the governed. We're not there anymore. Partisanship has divided us, and this partisanship is a madness of many that does nothing but provide gain for a few (credit to Alexander Pope for this concept, but I can't remember the exact quote). We must do better. We must not only remember that diversity is our strength, but we must respect and celebrate these concepts. We must judge people by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin (credit to Martin Luther King Jr), the religion they hold to, or their sexual preferences and identities. This great nation has, at times, been both the envy of the world and its savior. It has, at times, also been beholden by its own worst impulses and demons. American history is not only defined by the moments which we should take pride in, but also by those moments when we have failed. We are failing right now, and only be understanding that can we hope to again be a shining city on a hill, a democracy to be celebrated by the world. As I leave you to celebrate Independence Day with family and friends, I'd like to read the words of Massachusetts native James Otis Jr. "The only principles of public conduct that are worthy of a gentleman or a man are to sacrifice estate, ease, health, and applause, and even life, to the sacred calls of his country. These manly sentiments, in private life, make the good citizen; in public life, the patriot and the hero." This country needs more of those patriots, more of those heroes, and only we, all of us, together, can work to find them, elevate them, and empower them to lead.


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