Birthdays are wonderful times of celebration and appreciation, but when you get to a certain age–as I am getting–one’s birthday becomes also a more sobering occasion, a time to contemplate one’s mortality. Happy birthday to me, but I can feel myself fading and wonder how many birthdays I have left. Can the same be said of America’s birthday? On this 243rd birthday of America’s independence, is our nation showing its age and losing its vitality?
The Fourth of July celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which sets forth the assumptions of the American experiment:
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.
But surely none of these truths are “self-evident” anymore. Much of the public and our cultural elite denies that we have a Creator who created us, much less created us equal and endowed us with rights. They might believe in “rights,” but these are bestowed by the state, which can therefore take them away. Rights are thus not “unalienable” (meaning cannot be taken away since they have a transcendent foundation in God) but are alienable.
Consider too where we stand with those rights listed in the document we celebrate today: The Right to Life is repudiated by our nation’s abortion laws. Our Right to Liberty, as defined by our other foundational document, is also under attack, with significant and powerful segments of our population opposing each provision of the Bill of Rights: The free exercise of religion? Not if that includes disapproval of homosexuality and transgenderism. Freedom of Speech? Not on university campuses. Freedom of the Press? Except when it departs from the party line. Freedom of Assembly? Except in front of abortion clinics. Freedom to petition the government? It helps if you can afford a lobbyist. The right to both keep and bear arms? Lots of Americans would be glad to erase this one. The right to be free of soldiers quartering in your home? OK, we are keeping this one. “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”? Except when internet corporations do it.
The right to the pursuit of Happiness, hedonistically construed, still prevails. But why are we, as a nation, so unhappy?
We have unprecedented prosperity. And yet, many of our politicians and their supporters want to scrap our free economy in favor of socialism.
The author of the Declaration of Independence, which we celebrate today, is now discredited–as are many of those who signed that document–because they owned slaves, even though the ideals they established in this document provided the basis for their eventual emancipation.In general, our national history and our national heroes have been critically re-assessed, so that the American story taught in most of our schools is reduced to a sordid tale of oppression, racism, economic exploitation, and hypocrisy.
Citizens across the entire political spectrum despise the government. We revile the president of an opposing party; the court system has been politicized instead of exemplifying the objective rule of law; and both sides can’t stand Congress.
Just as some on the Left are calling for socialism, some on the Right are turning against Democracy!
And this sense of crisis and malaise on all fronts is not a response to some economic collapse, like the Great Depression, or to an external adversary, like Nazi Germany or Soviet Communism. Rather, today’s conflicts and existential challenges are all coming from within the nation!
When we get old, our body starts to fight against itself. We become weaker. We start to lose our mental faculties. Is that what is happening to America?
It is said that the United States of America is different from other countries in that we do not constitute an ethnic group. We are not like Germany, France, or China, with a distinct linguistic and ethnic identity. We might trace our lineage and quantify our Irish, Italian, or West African “blood,” but there is no “American blood,” other than that shed in the nation’s defense. Rather, we are composed of people from many different national backgrounds who came together around a set of ideals, those shared beliefs in the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
But what happens when Americans do not share those ideals and beliefs anymore?
Presumably a nation cannot “die,” as such. People will still live in these borders, even if the original Constitution is replaced in favor of a different kind of government and social order. But if that happens, the nation whose birthday we celebrate today will have died.
Today, on the Fourth of July, I come back home from a month and a half in Australia. My love of country is always at the highest when I have left it for awhile and come back. It isn’t just because I appreciate it more, though that is part of it. It’s mainly because I missed the land, the people, and the feel of home.
You don’t stop loving someone who is getting weak and sick. You certainly don’t stop loving someone who is getting old. Rather, they deserve your honor and respect all the more. When those we love are having problems or are under attack, our love motivates us to help, protect, and defend them.
May America’s problems make us love it more. And may that love of country motivate us not to give up on it, but to do what we can to keep it alive.
So Happy Birthday, America! And may you have many more!