Happy Birth Day America

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands, which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Every four years, we hold a presidential election, sometimes they’re a landslide, sometimes the race is so close to call that the Supreme Court has to inject itself into the proceedings. Almost invariably, though, it seems as though someone has to step up and declare that the Great American Experiment has again prevailed. The American way of life continues.

In fact, within an eight year time span, it is possible to completely and totally change the government, replacing two of the three major branches of which it is comprised. It is a powerful notion, this political turnover, this continuing possibility for progress. Any person who is dissatisfied with the government as it is need do little but get involved, get informed, and vote.

Things didn’t always work this way. And in truth, it’s been a hard time getting here, the work not finishing when we cast off British rule two hundred and thirty years ago, but only just beginning. In truth, the simple standard that, “All men are created equal,” is one that we battle to meet to this day; we had to fight a war just to get white landowners to have a say in their governance.

But that, too, is part of the Great American Experiment.

I think it’s important to remember this, to remember that the Great American Experiment is not an empty platitude, a capper to the pomp and circumstance of our presidential elections. It is an ongoing part of our daily lives. Every second of every hour, whether we are open to it, or ignorant, democracy is working… somewhere, somehow.

It’s the teenage girl painting a banner for Earth Day. It’s a young man raising his right hand before flag and country, pledging his life to defend us. It’s the pollsters huddled in a room, parsing numbers late into the night, and the senators locked in mortal combat with each other over a bill that everyone knows they won’t be popular for. It’s the millions of people who march together world wide in the hopes that their collective voices can be heard, that war is not the answer, or that black men and women deserve the same rights as their white counterparts. It’s the school kids who are paying more attention to current events than their parents, eager to turn eighteen not because they want to smoke or move out of the house, but because they want to be heard, they want their opinions to matter. It’s the guy pounding away at his keyboard non stop, hoping his words will make a difference, that he can enlighten one mind.

It’s important to remember this I think, especially for those of us who do this. For those of us who willingly engage on the field of battle, foot soldiers in an intellectual war where the stakes are impossibly high, it’s a necessity to remember what we’re doing this for. It’s not about immigration, or education, or healthcare, or even the Iraq war. It’s about this nation, it’s about a band of colonists who held this ideal, and put their lives on the line to see it through.

There’s no question that America today is far different from the America that existed when a group of men sat down to put on paper their grievances to the King of England, nor is there any doubt that we are even close to the nation they imagined centuries down the line. But this is to a point irrelevent.

It is impossible to think that with the collective wisdom these men shared that they entertained the possibility that they were making a firm template for this new world when they wrote the Articles of Confederation, or the Constitution of the United States. There can not be among them the arrogance to think that they had locked a land in stasis.

They had to understand that they were merely planting a seed, one that has for centuries flourished and grew and wove a tapestry so intricate and beautiful of culture and ideas that it is not difficult for me to look at my flawed country, and still, without the slightest inclination of doubt declare it the greatest on the planet.

We continue, by the letters of our constitution, to come together as “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union”. The people. What a radical idea. Not a nation beholden to a diety, or to a royal entity, but to the people. A government that works only at the consent of the governed.

In not being a country of God, ordained by God, and not at the strangle hold of monarchs supposedly picked by God, we have attained something that is so much more divine than nations that make such lofty claims.

So it is important, important to remember why I still devote so much of my life to this pursuit. At the core of this endeavor, transcending the bitter arguments, the mudslinging, and the attacks that go far beyond the boundaries of debate is a simple idea. I love my country, and I want it to continue to be a place of which I am proud. Being a nation of people and not gods, it is inherrently flawed, but it is also the holder of unimaginable potential. We’ve ended the scourge of the Nazis, and we have walked on the moon.

In our nation’s short life, it has achieved much, and yet that is only a tiny fraction of what it is capable of. And so I write. I write so that we continue to be a nation of the people, so that we do good in the world, and not ill. I write so that when my two little girls grow up, they too will fall in love with this country, and like their father, will become just another small part of this Great American Experiment.

Happy 231st, America.

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