The Radical Roots of the United States
Updated: Jul 27, 2020
The United States was forged in war. It was born in an idea: The radical idea that men should be citizens instead of subjects, and that people have "rights endowed by their creator" rather than favors gifted to them by a monarch. In the context of the 18th century the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the United States of America and the Bill of Rights (the first ten Amendments) may be the most radical documents ever crafted. The heart of 21st century Republicanism is a commitment to preserve the exceptional commitment to individual rights and responsibilities "enumerated" in those documents over two centuries ago.
The United States is exceptional. We are not exceptional because we are capitalist. We are not exceptional because we are rich. We are not exceptional because we are religiously diverse. We are not exceptional because we are ethnically diverse. We are not exceptional because we are a "Republic." We are not exceptional because we have a "democratic" process. We are not exceptional because we have never really had more than two serious political parties at any one time. We are not exceptional because we rolled to victory in two bloody World Wars. We are not exceptional because we are generous --although we are a very generous country. We are not exceptional because of the Grand Canyon, John Wayne, Rock 'n Roll, Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Mouse or Hollywood. We are exceptional because of our shared ideas. We are exceptional because we believe government exists for the people, the people don't exist for the government. We are exceptional in that we believe our rights are endowed by our creator. The Constitution may preserve the individual's rights, but it does not endow us with rights. Instead the Constitution defines the rights of Government. Our rights, as citizens, are "unalienable."
That distinction is at the heart of what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America. That idea, that fragile, radical, exceptional idea, was at the heart of a rebellion that became a revolution. A revolution that gave birth to a country and a people.
I believe in America. I believe in our history and our future. Today, July 4th, 2020, it has become brutally obvious that believing in the hope and promise of America is something too few of our fellow citizens share. Maybe our messy history, a history that is both profane and sublime, is simply too hard for my contemporaries to grasp. But our history is fascinating. Our history matters. From Union Square to Times Square, from Laredo to Missoula, Yorktown to Newton, the frozen dirt of Valley Forge to the blood and dust of Gettysburg, our history matters.
Almost certainly, tonight a screaming mob will try to tear down the statue of a true radical. The mob will think they are brave, they will think they are radicals. The reality is... the mob's ideas and ideals are no more radical than Pol Pot or Mao, or the Mensheviks and the fellow travelers who ushered in their bloody reign. The statue they attack however, that statue will be part of the fabric of America. And at heart our fabric is tougher than a mob. So on this 4th of July let us place the mob in their place, the mob's place is at the fringe of society. Yes, the mob should be feared, but they should never be respected.
Instead, today we should respect the men and women who had real courage and real ideas and were willing to fight for their ideals. The people who gave their all for their time and their country. The people who had statues dedicated to them, and the people who never had statues but whose spirit still rushes with the wind through the heartland of America. Let us all have a great time. And let us get to work Monday morning fixing our problems. Because we do have problems. And one of our problems may be that we have forgotten that true radicalism is about creation, not destruction... Fixing problems, not destroying society.