(Blogger’s note: I posted this late in the afternoon Pacific Time on July 4, but on my blog time it was already July 5. Hope everyone is enjoying their July Fourth weekend.)
As we celebrate this Independence Day, the Fourth of July, this year the 233rd birthday of the United States of America, we might wonder independence from what?
We have our Constitution, to include its Bill of Rights. We have an elected government. We are not ruled by a king who proclaims a god given right to tell us what to do (although some political candidates would have you believe that God is on their side and Satan on the side of their opponents).
So we are independent from governmental tyranny, except for the fact we may have created such a monster of government in the name of protecting ourselves from ourselves that we may not be as free as we think we ought to be at times.
But we must have something going. People from all over the world have and still do flock to our shores and cross our borders, legally and illegally, to be part of America.
And to use a much abused or misused word, we are “unique” as a nation. Unique means one of a kind, and that we are. Nothing really like us existed before 1776 and nothing just like us has existed since. We have some close imitations around the world, but we stand out still as one of a kind.
Without going into some complicated history lesson where I would likely botch the whole thing anyway, I will just write here that yes we began as a colony of Englishmen, primarily. And those who revolted from the mother country were basically, as I understand it, only asking for the rights of Englishmen, of which they asserted they were being deprived. And I risk really going out on a limb here with ancient history, but the notion that men (and that really means women too in the modern context) should not be deprived of individual rights by an all powerful leader (read king) goes way back to the signing of the Magna Carta in England in 1215.
But once we got going with the revolution thing, we as a new nation totally abandoned any idea that we would have a sovereign at the head of our government. We did not invent Democracy, the idea came from ancient Greece and Rome, but we took it to a new level. We decided that we would have a government of and by and for the people.
And I think what has really done the trick is that we went beyond a group of Englishmen, and sons of Englishmen, to a nation of immigrants from all over the world who yearned for individual freedom and opportunity to live a better and freer life than they otherwise would be able to experience.
We’ve faced some problems and contradictions along the way. Slavery was recognized in our constitution but finally abolished after a civil war (in law anyway). And of course we ran roughshod over the native inhabitants of the American continent, but people fighting each other over the competition for land and resources is a large part of the story of man, just read the Holy Bible.
From the beginning of our nation there has been a disagreement as to how much freedom we should have and how power should be distributed. Some think there ought to be strong central rule and others think the power should be more loosely distributed, and some think there should be as little government as possible. And many have no precise notion of how governmental power should be distributed, except that individuals should be able to keep their freedoms – we can all agree on that.
And I think I am correct in stating that the Founding Fathers did not want or conceive that the United States would become a world power. But with people from all over the world coming to us we came to represent the aspirations for freedom and opportunity of everyone on the planet, and in the modern age we have become a super power, in fact, at present, THE super power.
And as much as it often seems the rest of the world loves to hate us, in reality in seems also that the world in general looks to us as a beacon of freedom and is disappointed when we fail or are perceived to have failed in that regard.
Our main problem now is that while we are free and independent as far as individual liberties, we are not free from the constant struggle of life. There’s that constant struggle for survival, the struggle for resources. Such struggles are not only between nations but within nations. And we are experiencing that struggle right now big time. We call it a recession or economic downturn or financial crisis or depression.
Throughout history, when people become desperate they have often turned to forms of tyranny that lessen their freedom but promise protection from want and attack.
Some would charge that under President Barack Obama and his stimulus program and his push for health care reform with the so-called public option, and his green energy program we are headed that way now, just as some did back in the 1930s under Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal social programs, designed to add financial security and help bring us out of the Great Depression.
I don’t think so, but I do think there is always a danger that we might give up all of our freedoms in the name of some kind of security. Just as the current economic turmoil is caused larger numbers of voters to move to the political left, concern over a loss of moral values under a morally corrupt president, Bill Clinton, caused the nation to move decidedly toward the right, and then even more so as the result of 9/11 and our concerns for security from attacks by terrorists. And for some time the public seemed quite willing to put its trust in a secretive White House led by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney that made war and spying on its own citizens and ignoring constitutional protections of liberty, that set us apart as a society, its mode of operation.
In the extremes of left and right, liberty is curtailed in the name of national security and well being. In order to maintain our freedom we need some type of equilibrium.
The good news is that so far we always have been able to do just that and there is no reason we cannot keep on doing so.
And while we all together celebrate our nation’s independence today and tonight, we may not be altogether in our preferred approach to the enjoyment of freedom.
But that is part of what makes this nation unique. We can agree to disagree.
And that is the essence of freedom. Unlike in places such as Iran, one can disagree without threat of imprisonment or death.
And I for one support the troops as they say. I question some of the policies that got us to where we are today, but I think we owe our all to those we send into harm’s way. And we should all give thanks for their sacrifice this Day and night and always.