Happy Independence Day to our readers! Most of you will be celebrating the holiday with friends, families, and neighbors. If your town is anything like mine, you’ll be at the curbside as the parade goes by, with floats, bands, and community groups marching past. In our parade, a number of the groups toss candy to the kids, and it’s fun to watch them scramble for the treats. (And sometimes, we have to impose a little guidance to make sure the smaller ones get a chance at it.)
The Fourth of July is a great reminder to us of what makes the United States special, which we sometimes forget when immersed in the politics of the day. It’s easy to become cynical and pessimistic when that happens, mired in what seem like unresolvable issues and conflicts. Even to the extent that we look for broader context, we sometimes look at our history with rose-colored glasses and convince ourselves that we’re heading into the abyss.
Our friend and contributor Andrew Malcolm reminds us that our past wasn’t the Civil Utopia we might assume:
One of the more serious problems with America’s current fixation on instant gratification is its indulgence in instant outrage fueled by a general cultural coarsening and enabled by social media. Any one of Twitter’s 330 million users, 68 million of them in the U.S., can tap out an outburst for all to see and respond in seconds.
Hence, the almost weekly public apologies of personalities both famous and faint for crude, rude, thoughtless or worse electronic missives. All this has saturated media with a sudden summer concern about America’s awful incivility.
Pleeze! This nation’s collective memory endures less than 10 years. Most Americans weren’t born by 1969, when those two opening incidents were personally witnessed. So, they think today’s civic rudeness is unprecedented.
We have a long history of incivility and bad choices, not just in the present but all along since almost the first days of the Republic. Self-governance does not guarantee us that every outcome will be wise or moral, but self-governance allows us the opportunity to repair them and do better. That’s why America embodies optimism in its very structure, as I argue in my column today at The Week:
[F]ocusing on America’s bad outcomes misses the point. A nation that governs itself owns its own mistakes — and has the ability to rectify them. We create the laws under which we are governed, and when we don’t like the outcomes, our elected officials have the ability to correct them. Our Constitution has been amended 17 times since its initial ratification to deal with the worst of the outcomes, including slavery, and even once to correct an earlier amendment prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcohol.
Our Independence Day gave us the ability to set our own course, for better or worse. No doubt the worse outcomes of those decisions, and the slow process of correcting them, made our forefathers despair at times, too. The long string of injustices seen in our history belong to the people who governed at that time and plagued the people they served, but we remember them now to remind us of the responsibility we have to govern ourselves wisely and judiciously in the future. The successes and failures of self-governance provide the perspective necessary to keep a sharp check on the use of power, lest we create the disconnect that created the need for the Declaration of Independence in the first place. Sundering governance from accountability is the surest and the shortest way to arrive at such a crisis.
Freedom and self-governance may not be pretty, but it is the antidote for the ills of every other form of government. We do not celebrate perfection on Independence Day — we celebrate the right and the responsibility we have to keep pursuing it in our messy, frustrating, dynamic, and wonderful nation. May God bless our journey as we renew our commitment to that goal today.
And may the Lord bless all your celebrations today too, and keep a special watch on the men and women who serve our nation to protect our liberties and safety.