How’d we get here, 241 years later?
It’ll be published on the Fourth of July, I thought, as I pondered a topic for this week’s column. Perhaps something about our best-known national holiday is in order.
Turns out, as with most things these days, I could have outsourced.
For only $11.99 per page, I could have ordered up the two pages my weekly musings usually comprise. Twenty-four bucks and I’d have been done, courtesy of EliteWritings.com. Probably with better grammar and spelling, meaning less work for editorial page editor Andy Smith. And likely, if discovered, prompting a sharp yank on the long leash afforded me by the powers that be responsible for putting out your daily newspaper.
The web site’s home page offered the same sort of advice any journalism professor might put forth about writing a column. It even provided samples of an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion. Taken together, those three samples would have filled nearly half of my normal word allotment. Easy, peasy.
But certainly not in the spirit of our founding fathers who, on July 4, 1776, risked it all to affix their names to the Declaration of Independence and send a fledgling group of 13 colonies down the path of becoming a nation.
Jonathan Bernstein, writing a few days ago for Bloomberg View, pointed out that we are a country that began as an experiment in something more reviled than treasured these days.
“The United States began as an experiment in politics, with a founding document dedicating us (as Lincoln said) not to a patch of land, a religion, an ethnicity, or a culture, but to a proposition: that “all men are created equal,” Bernstein wrote. “The revolution was completed by a constitution which institutionalized politics, including participation by ordinary citizens.”
“It’s not an exaggeration,” he wrote, “to say that for the framers, the ability to take part in politics is the whole point of establishing the nation.”
If Bernstein’s right, how’d we get to where we are on July 4, 2017?
How did we evolve from 13 original “tribes” gathered together in a common risky cause to an untold number of tribes clinging defiantly to totems that exclude everyone who doesn’t believe exactly as they do?
What brought us from a Continental Congress willing to literally hang together to politics at all levels where the common good is sacrificed to partisan efforts on all sides that divide rather than unite us, to a point where politicians of all stripes are ranked lower in the polls than even the journalists some of them revile?
Somehow we’ve arrived at a place where, for my own local party, the rallying point of encouraging participation in today’s downtown parade is to outnumber Republican marchers, not to celebrate the birth of our nation. Where, on the other side, it’s fashionable to wrap up in red, white and blue trappings and call yourself a patriot.
“Patriot is what someone else should call you,” my late friend and occasional adversary Ralph D’Andrea once said, “not something you should call yourself.”
Our forefathers who drew up the Declaration of Independence we celebrate today put into writing the kernel of an idea that representative government derived its power from the people. It’s possible the divisiveness we see is representative of politics in our country. It’s also possible the inability of our current Congress to get along, to forge compromise, is as much a cause as a result.
At a long-ago Mesa College homecoming, newly inaugurated President Gerald Ford was the featured speaker, talking about the “Grand Junction” of American ideals in the troubled days immediately after Richard Nixon resigned.
“No government,” Ford said, “can expect the people to act responsibly when it fails to do so.”
Perhaps, sometime today in the midst of festivities, there’ll be time for reflection. Time for each of us to consider what part we’ve played in making the current iteration of the American dream a political nightmare.
This Fourth of July, 241 years after John Hancock affixed the first signature on the Declaration of Independence, let’s enjoy our fireworks, our picnics and camping trips, our time away from work. But let’s also ponder what each of us can do to bring back the kind of politics envisioned by those folks who gathered in Philadelphia for the first Continental Congress.