Making America great again, means including us all

Independence Day, is the celebration the July 4th, 1776 declaration of the American Colonies’ right to be free from tyranny.

Perhaps the most poignant line in that seminal document is 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.”

Life, the safety and the protection of the population from fear of harm and death, is clearly a legitimate role of the state.

Liberty includes positive freedom, the “right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” It also includes a negative freedom, the “absence of subjection to a despotic government.”

The pursuit of Happiness is the ultimate expression of both. It is the freedom to become all God created us to be. It means we have the right to independently choose how we act, where we live, and what we do. While recognizing that “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men,” it emphatically asserts that individual choice, unconstrained by the unreasonable dictates of government, is the central objective.

Sadly, as our society has evolved, we seem to have added another “right.” Many appear to believe that we have a “Progressive” freedom, meaning we feel we also have the “right” to have our Happiness assured by the government, even if it impinges on the freedoms our founding fathers sought.

We now appear willing to cede our positive freedoms to act without undo government restraint in order to be comfortable. We have also forsaken our negative freedoms by allowing a constantly increasing interference in our lives by a government that is ever more unresponsive to the wishes of a significant portion of the citizenry (witnessed by the election of Donald Trump as President).

We have changed the right to the “pursuit of Happiness” into the right to be Happy.

Perhaps more precisely, our country is being split between those who hold the original freedoms (positive and negative) paramount and those who have come to believe that a guarantee of comfort and happiness is worth the price (in the sacrifice of other freedoms) to achieve.

The latter group is actually advocating a move towards socialism, a system in which management (and in more extreme cases-the ownership of) economic activity is under the control of the government. More precisely, the model seems to be based on European social democracy where the state guarantees a wide-range of social services. The cost of those guarantees is a levy on productive economic and civic activities through taxes and regulation.

Let there be no misunderstanding, such a system requires the citizens to give up some of the rights our fore-fathers fought to achieve.

The challenges we face today are based on this schism. One side wishes to roll-back the intrusions of government in our lives, with the concomitant reduction in some social services to which, at least some portion of the population, have come to expect. The other side wishes to preserve and, in the case of the Bernie Sanders Democrats, expand those entitlements.

Unfortunately, we appear unwilling to debate these issues in a civilized fashion. Battle lines have been drawn. Our dysfunctional government in Washington refuses to recognize the freedom granted to our population to choose their beliefs. I know what I believe, but I acknowledge that I do not have all the facts, nor the “right” answers. Some people think they are omniscient and consequently that their side ought to be omnipotent. They are dead wrong.

Regardless of one’s stance, given the magnitude of the divide and an electorate torn down the middle, we have to acknowledge that any viable solution will entail compromise (a term now more reviled than any four-letter word).

Through our democracy, we have now created a “tyranny of the majority.” In following the will of the majority, we are now repressing the freedoms of the minority.

Do we really believe that a ping-pong game of revolving parties in power, changing rules and constantly doing and un-doing each other’s actions is the appropriate choice? Do we really hold those with different opinions and beliefs are unworthy of respect? That no idea other than our own has merit? Truly, we believe we are god-like.

All great empires in which their leaders reached this degree of hubris collapsed. Are we now on that trajectory? Are we witnessing the decline of America’s age of hegemony? Are we, though our own folly, witnessing the erosion of American Exceptionalism?

I have long believed that America is the embodiment of what Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

It was eloquently echoed by Ronald Reagan as “a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

I believe we can once again be that “shining city on a hill.” As we celebrate our founding, I pray we gain the wisdom to alter our self-destructive path, recognize the inherent worth of all our citizens (and their opinions regardless of how different from our own), honestly acknowledge our limitations, and find a compromise from which we can progress as a society.

Making America great again, means including us all.

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