It's been a great holiday weekend, filled with traditional family activities like fireworks, a parade, a family cookout, relaxation … and yes, even some yard work. Probably a lot like yours.

Reflecting on this and past Fourth of July weekends, it's hard to avoid one overarching conclusion. Those who risked their lives 243 years ago to declare our independence, and those who a decade later crafted our Constitution, got it right.

It's easy to lose sight of that these days. With the notable exception of some trying years a century and a half ago when Americans chose blue or gray uniforms and were actually shooting at one another in places like Vicksburg and Antietam, we're more politically divided than we've ever been.

It's not just that we look at the same set of circumstances and reach different conclusions. It's the fact that we seem to relish those differences, revel in our "holier than thou" absolutist attitudes regarding those who don't share our stances. That we actually seek out opportunities to exacerbate those differences, to broaden the chasms that separate us, to throw gasoline on the fires we set and fan the flames.

John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and their compatriots no doubt wished for a United States of America with emphasis on "united." Probably wishful thinking, even back then, given compromises necessary in the subsequent drafting and ratification of the Constitution that would govern a fledgling nation. That task consumed the better part of 16 months. Unfortunately, that brief time span for agreement would seem like warp speed today, a pace unimaginable in today's political circumstances.

We're still working on many of those "self evident" truths mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.

High up in the Declaration is the notion that all of us are created as equals, endowed by our Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Notable, perhaps, is that the wording doesn't specify only citizens of the then-new country but "all men," presumed later in our history also to include women.

Interesting, isn't it, to try to square that with what we've discovered regarding children in cages, families separated, and that chilling picture of a father and daughter face down in the waters of the Rio Grande. Or with ongoing racial conflicts across our now "mature" nation, including shootings in black churches and violence in Charlottesville.

As the long holiday weekend began, we saw a federal judge challenge Justice Department to clear up the president's apparent desire to circumvent a previously agreed upon Supreme Court ruling regarding inclusion of a citizenship question on the census. That calls to mind assertions in the Declaration of Independence about the then-ruler "…refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judicial powers…" and who "…made Judges dependent on his Will alone…"

You may like the president's instructions to the Justice Department to seek an end-around on the census question. You may disapprove of another recent Supreme Court ruling that partisan gerrymandering is not within its purview. Pick your side on any number of high court decisions. But acknowledge the value the Founding Fathers placed on an independent judiciary while recognizing many presidents, including Franklin Roosevelt and Donald Trump, have challenged that independence.

That we're informed of all of the above and other actions by state, local and federal governments is because of two other freedoms thought by the Founding Fathers to be vital.

A press free from governmental interference gives us the information necessary to exercise still another right, that of free speech. One person's "fake news" might be another's deep truth. Fact checking may hurt but provides balance to claims from any place on the political spectrum.

It may stir your red or blue bones that flag burning is protected along with racist rhetoric — that much of what we see and hear defies common decency. The alternatives lead us down a slippery slope toward the very things our colonist ancestors rebelled against.

The one local newscast I watched the evening of the Fourth of July contained no mention of the temporarily controversial celebration in Washington D.C. Instead I saw community celebrations, the downtown parade we attended, pictures of fireworks and even a perhaps too-traditional fireworks sparked wildfire.

Despite all that divides us, life goes on, guided by centuries old documents that continue to serve us well.

Jim Spehar hopes you're wrapping up an enjoyable Fourth of July weekend. Comments to speharjim@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

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