Another Fourth of July is upon us, and every year I try to think past the barbecues and beer and ponder the origin of Independence Day.
“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.”
We learned that quote as school kids, but these days it seems out of touch with where we are as a nation, doesn’t it?
With the economy stuck in park, the approval rating of our government leaders in the sinkhole and with so many of us worried about the future and at war with each other over differences of opinion and politics, I’m not sensing a lot of happiness in the country.
I wish folks would take a few minutes to read the Declaration of Independence while they relax over this long weekend. It is only about 1,300 words, just a little longer than this column.
It outlines what our forefathers fought against as they established this country. The absolute tyranny of the King of England brought our ancestors together in a single, noble purpose: The fight for independence — for themselves and for all of us who were to follow. When their work was done, trusted leaders were able to make laws free from British control and collectively design our fledgling country’s future.
This time of year makes me think about all forms of independence with which we are endowed. I think freedom of thought and action are the dearest things we Americans can claim. As long as our actions aren't contrary to law, we are allowed to do and say just about anything we want — even if it is offensive to others.
But every day there is fresh evidence that many of America’s citizens are painfully divided and vehemently determined to crush any thought that isn’t like their own. What happened to the American ideal, instilled by those wise men 238 years ago, that working together makes for a much better and stronger country?
Today, our seemingly entrenched us-versus-them/Democrats-versus-Republicans/liberals-versus-conservatives mindset has had the opposite effect. I sometimes fret that the very fabric that sewed our 50 states together has begun to unravel. In many respects, we are no longer a cohesive country working toward the common goal of a lawful, strong, lasting empire.
We’re so busy attacking each other that we’ve failed to notice the real evils in the world and here at home. In and around Syria and Iraq marauding Islamist extremists are routinely assassinating those who don’t adhere to their hate-filled, racist and misogynistic brand of religion. Our homeland is surely in increased danger with every mile of land they capture and claim for their new caliphate.
At home our nation’s borders are, literally, being stormed by tens of thousands of illegal immigrants. We send our young out to fight wars and then fail to provide them with good and timely medical care. Gangs of violent criminals roam the streets of some of America’s largest cities. Poisonous drugs infiltrate even the smallest American villages. Too many guns fall into the hands of the wrong people. Many citizens who desperately want to work can’t find jobs or are cripplingly under-employed — and this has been the case for years.
The Census Bureau tells us that nearly half the U.S. population is supported by a government program and about 45 percent of Americans pay no federal taxes. Politicians get away with promising everything and delivering little.
Yet, faced with these monumental problems, we spend our time fighting over things like the names of football teams. Or whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the so-called Hobby Lobby case has erased a woman’s right to contraceptives. (If you study the decision, you see it did no such thing.) With hair-trigger indignation we fight about perceived intolerance and income equality — two circumstances that are ingrained in the human condition, biblically long-standing and impossible to cure.
As nationally syndicated radio host and columnist Dennis Prager recently wrote, “There is a rule in life: Those who do not confront the greatest evils will confront much lesser evils or simply manufacture alleged evils that they then confront.”
What is wrong with us that we cannot hold civil discussions or listen to someone else’s point of view? Perhaps it’s because we’re afraid new facts might upset our firmly held beliefs. When did this automatically dismissive mentality take the place of respecting every American’s right to his or her own opinion? Why, we even have major universities that invite and then dis-invite commencement speakers who have served in the White House — but not for the “correct” party. As if hearing an opposing viewpoint might damage a graduate’s well-being.
To my mind, when we resort to shutting out information, we fall into the trap both political parties have set for us in their never-ending quest for votes. They manipulate the message because if they can get us to believe their rhetoric, they get to keep their jobs. Spurred on by partisan media and politicians, it’s easy to accept what we hear from them instead of taking the time to think through an issue and come to our own informed opinions.
During this Independence Day break, I urge a few minutes be used to think back to those 50 members of the Continental Congress — Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock and the rest of the forward-thinking bunch — who took the time to discuss, debate and compromise their way into a document that helped form the nation in which we live today. The Declaration of Independence urges all of us to have “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”
When we lose the ability to respect our fellow citizens, we’re in real trouble.
— Diane Dimond is the author of Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.