Declaration of Independence –
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Preamble to the U.S. Constitution –
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Happy Independence Day to a deeply divided America.
As we celebrate another 4th of July holiday, the rifts in our nation’s collective conscience have never seemed wider.
It’s always a good day to remind ourselves of the unrealized ideals set forth in our country’s founding documents.
Yes, you can argue – with hundreds of historical examples in hand – that it’s always been this way.
That “we the people,” “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and “one nation…with liberty and justice for all” have always been worthy – but unfulfilled – platitudes for our experiment in self-governance.
Indeed, it’s been almost two and a half centuries since that Declaration was adopted by representatives from the nascent 13 colonies.
But with 24-hour cable and internet news and round-the-clock social media diatribes overwhelming our daily realities, perceptions of a future dystopia abound.
This American Division is stark; some even think it’s irreconcilable. Perhaps they’re right. But that doesn’t mean a 21st century Civil War is inevitable.
It isn’t…not yet anyway (but see the end of this essay; another January 6th event could be lurking around the corner).
If we’re being honest with ourselves, Americans have been at war with ourselves since our founding – it’s the nature of a democratic republic.
On the one hand, as our nation’s first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court John Marshall observed, “Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.”
On the other hand, as the wise Ben Franklin once quipped, “If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.”
Indeed, unity per se was never a goal of the nation’s founders, except maybe in an apocryphal sense. Turns out, democracy is a messy, often ugly process.
And in any event, policymaking in a democratic republic was never expected to be unanimous; it’s always been the art of achieving what is possible at any given time.
The problem with our ever-evolving internal war of words is that it’s growing more and more un-civil.
And that’s what some fear is leading to another Civil War – one with guns and blood and Americans killing other Americans.
But we’ve struggled with that very experience since our founding…and it continues as we celebrate our nation’s 247th Independence Day.