Happy Independence Day 2018! It’s OK to be proud of the United States on this day, and every day. American exceptionalism is real, celebrate it!
As we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, here are some reflections on its key concepts:
Life: Life is the basic right of every human being. All good laws should contribute to its protection and edification. What life should be protected? All of it, as much as can be. Civilized humans avoid needless violence and killing. Killing animals for food and other resources is the way of life, killing purely for sport, or out of cruelty is the way of death. The unborn? We’ll if it’s a life, then yes. The old and the sick? Death is also part of life, but again, it should not be brought about wantonly or casually. People talk about dying with dignity, especially as a rationale for euthanasia. I prefer the idea of living with dignity. How is it beneath anybody’s dignity to fight until their very last breath? Being in a pitiful physical state does not equal being pitiful in a spiritual state, on the contrary, it is often the opposite.
Liberty: Liberty is the chance to use our gift of life to its fullest advantage. Without basic liberties, mankind is held back from reaching its fullest potential. That is why liberty curtailing forms of government like Communism and Socialism are immoral, or at best, amoral. Liberty comes with the freedom to fail, and learn from our mistakes. Liberty, the Founders knew, is a fragile thing, easily destroyed. We must protect our liberties jealously because once lost they are very difficult to regain. Of all the laws that have ever been passed, how many have increased liberty? Very few compared to the number of those that limit it.
Our American government has done well extending liberty to classes of people that once lacked it. That is government at its best. The problem is that government rarely expands the freedoms of its citizens at large. Upon gaining the rights of the majority those same formerly oppressed groups find themselves at the lifetime high water mark of their freedom, only to have other liberties gradually taken away and suppressed by mountains of regulation. It’s like a castaway that washes up on the beach of an island to safety, only to find the beach is eroding into the sea. Our freedoms are like those grains of sand, being eroded one by one until someone decides to fight it.
The Pursuit of Happiness. “The U. S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.” –Benjamin Franklin. The Declaration of Independence only suggests that humans have that right to pursue happiness, but the achievement of it can only be done by ourselves. The biggest mistake is to confuse happiness with pleasure. Drugs can produce pleasure, but never happiness. Pleasure is fleeting, true happiness can be maintained over much longer periods of time. The other mistake we humans make is to think that happiness will just happen. Sometimes it does, but most of the time it must be earned. Members of the Armed Forces often forgo the happiness of home and family for long periods of time so that they and others can have it to a fuller degree when they return. The miracle of happiness is that giving it produces more of it.
For another week, Colin Keapernick and his misguided friends have continued their protest by taking a knee during the national anthem during this week’s NFL games. It is a protest they say against oppression, police brutality, and a suite of other social justice grievances. There’s no question that any police brutality is too much. There is no argument that if police cross that line that they should be held to account. Oppression? Oppression is in the eye of the beholder, but perhaps Kaepernick and the others might like to compare notes with women, Christians, or gays from any number of Muslim countries. They might want to talk to some of the very few people who have escaped persecution from places like China or North Korea. The question is whether or not their chosen protest is disrespectful. If you deliberately withhold a sign of respect, that is by definition disrespectful.
There are all sorts of things that occur within this country’s borders that we don’t approve of. The simple ceremony of standing for the national anthem has nothing to do with approval, it has to do with honor and respect, not just for the flag, but for the country it represents. If approval for everything that a country does were the measure, then no one in any country ought to stand for their national anthem. No country is spotless and free of any civil strife. No place in the world if totally free of injustice. Some counties though, are worthy of respect from all of its citizens.
The United States more than most deserves respect. Not blind respect, but the kind of respect that comes with the recognition of what it has done throughout its history to further certain ideals. The kind of respect that comes from seeing not the bad, but the good of a country and its decided preference for the latter. It also genuine respect for the great, even astounding achievements of its citizens. Here are but a few: We freed a continent not our own from brutal oppression. We defeated another oppressive regime that dominated Eastern Europe for well over a half a century without firing a shot. We sent men to the moon and returned them safely back to earth. That was us, we did that, not some other country, we did. Because of America, diseases that once plagues mankind have been made extinct. We gave the world the electric light, the telephone, the computer. The list of America’s achievements is long, longer arguably than many other countries centuries older than us. Every single citizen of this country has more freedom that every single citizen in most of the countries in the world. Every single person in this country has more freedom of religion than every single person living in China, Iran, and numerous other countries. Such a country, despite its many faults deserves respect.
Are there issues facing this country that Kaepernick, his fellow athletes, and the rest of America should rightly speak out about? Of course. Protesting by taking a knee during the national anthem is their unquestioned right. The irony is the country that offers them that right ought to be respected for it. A further irony is that these professional athletes are rewarded for work in their chosen professions at a level that is far disproportionate to that of those who protect their rights. Their chosen form of protest does not show respect; it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of why Americans honor their country by standing for the Star Spangled Banner. The object is not to show total approval for their country, but to honor what it has been at its best, the great accomplishments of its people, and what it strives to be.
“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.” the Declaration of Independence
140 years ago today, America declared its independence from Great Britain. A few years later, after tremendous sacrifice, we won that independence and gained a great amount of freedom. Today, we still have that independence, but sadly very little of that freedom. Over two centuries, but mostly in the fifty or so years, we have either traded away or sold our freedoms in the name of security and comfort. Even as we would not consciously give up our liberty, our government has found subtle ways to take it. It takes it in the form of a huge, unwieldy bureaucracy, unelected and accountable to virtually no one.
The Founding Fathers started this quest for freedom and it is one we have inherited. Freedom did not just happen to them, they had to take it. It will not just continue to happen for us, to keep it we will have to join that long line of patriots that began with Washington, Franklin, Adams, and the rest. To the extent we fight to keep ourselves free, we find ourselves in their distinguished company. The put their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor on the line. Most of us are called upon merely to keep ourselves educated, remain vigilant, and vote. Maybe because it’s so much easier for us, we assume everyone or someone else will do it for us. Staying free will require our participation as individuals and collectively.
Those liberties that were hard-won by others are too easily lost by us. We should with that fact in mind, repurpose the fourth of July. Independence Day needs to be a day not just to celebrate our independence, but one that reminds us to recommit ourselves to those freedoms that this country gained by the Revolution, and all those won since. Maintaining these liberties is a constant struggle, and that sacred struggle is one that all Americans ought to take part in. We can do it in different ways, by activism, voting, sometimes just by letting those in power know we’re watching and paying attention. When you celebrate America’s independence, remember why it was in the first place that 140 years ago it was so important that so many risked so much for it. Remember and resolve to keep those American ideals alive in your thoughts and deeds for another year.