As we approach the 242nd Anniversary of the birth of our nation, it often escapes our attention that the real birthday of our nation just passed. On June 21, we celebrated the 230th Anniversary of …
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As we approach the 242nd Anniversary of the birth of our nation, it often escapes our attention that the real birthday of our nation just passed. On June 21, we celebrated the 230th Anniversary of our Constitution’s official ratification, and our establishment as the United States of America.
Of course, the birth of our nation was not without birthing pains. There was the failed attempt at a Confederation, there were riots and deaths in New York, savage attacks in the press, a duel or two, and some compromises which, while they allowed the Union to form, also left the inevitability of a war over slavery. It was far from perfect. I suppose a country that is formed out of a war has little choice but to own the fact that violence — both rhetorical and real — is a part of political life.
Those imperfections are starting to show.
There is no way to minimize the depths to which our national debate has sunk lately. I am deeply troubled by what seems to be almost daily escalations in our war of words, and am concerned that the war of words will soon become a war of fists, or worse.
I know each side of the debate believes the problem is isolated on the other side, but, it is clearly the case that both sides are to blame. When the one side allows White Supremacist parades to happen unchecked, and the other side has a party leader calling for harassment of political opponents with organized groups of people waiting to drive political opposition out of public spaces, it’s all bad.But take some comfort in the fact that it’s not unprecedented.
The Republic has survived any number of times in which it seemed like we were on the brink of teetering off a cliff, and, each time, it has stepped back from the precipice. Or, perhaps, to be more accurate, was yanked back from plummeting by men of singular strength and character. Indeed, the fact that we are even here to debate, as one nation, is a testament to our ability to overcome our political differences.
The U.S. Constitution was, in many regards, a paean to compromise: the Electoral College and the Senate are both acknowledgment that simple mob rule is not enough for us, while still being deferential to democratic principles. And, yes, it’s unfortunate that slavery was left intact in the Constitution, but it also put in place the means to abolish it.
Why did the Constitution survive the acrimony of those hot weeks of debate in Philadelphia? Because the man in charge of the Convention was so widely respected that he could bend the delegates to his will. How did the first Cabinet manage to survive the upheavals of creating a new government? Because that same man was so beloved that he could keep the hot-headed egos of his Secretaries in check.
George Washington has never been viewed as the intellectual equal of Jefferson, Madison or Hamilton, but there is no question that he was wiser and more commanding than any man in American History.
Who is that man or woman today, who has the good will, the character, and the strength to make either side lay down their arms for the common good. Where will he or she come from? And how much further do we have to go down this road before we come together to find that person?
Liberty, Freedom, Democracy not only encourage but occasionally require that we have periods of acrimony such as this. But they also tend to provide us with the talents to pick ourselves up again, afterwards.
This July 4th, I’m thinking about the genius that is America. And I’m wondering (but not really wondering) if any of those men and women we just cast votes for in our primaries have the wisdom, the strength of will, or the courage to bring us back together.
And I’m looking everywhere (except Washington, D.C.), trying to find that person.
Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His novels are available at MichaelJAlcorn.com. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.
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