Americans shouldn’t have to be reminded about core values. But with all that’s roiling in Washington, let’s go back to the beginning.
“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.”
Those were Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776. They’re filled with a courage found just days earlier on June 28 as South Carolina patriots defended a fort on Sullivan’s Island at the mouth of Charleston harbor from a massive land and sea attack by the British. It was the first major patriot victory of the Revolutionary War. Word spread quickly and gave colonists the courage to declare independence.
Through the years, that independent spirit forged values that became known as American all over the world — the continuing commitment to fairness and truth, the zeal to promote opportunity and the American dream through hard work, the passion of shared sacrifice to enhance the common good, and an ongoing vow to do the right thing at home and abroad. These ideals are intrinsically American, recognized in the image of America as the “shining city on a hill” as shared during presidencies from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan.
In a farewell address, Reagan shared the importance of America as the beacon of opportunity that began in the 1630s by John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony:
“In my mind it was 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.”
And now five presidents later comes Donald Trump, who plays fast and loose with the rules and truth, who is placing economically disadvantageous tariffs on American goods that likely will dampen the growing economy, who so wants an expensive border wall that he split kids from their parents and tried to blame others. As this president tweets with selfish abandon, Congress plods. Too often, the media play along, looking at whatever new shiny thing Trump holds in one hand while the other is used to obfuscate, dissemble, and trample the hard work of millions of Americans, especially those who do not look like him.
We should be outraged, not gullible. We must protect the freedoms, human rights, and values championed in a 1941 speech by President Franklin Roosevelt:
Freedom of speech and expression. Today’s “fake news” is nonsense infecting the country and dampening this basic First Amendment freedom. Americans should not put up with lies and misrepresentations of verifiable facts.
Freedom of religion for people to worship how they choose. It is unacceptable and un-American to demagogue red-blooded Americans who observe religions other than Christianity.
Freedom from want. Artist Norman Rockwell portrayed this freedom as an iconic Thanksgiving dinner. Roosevelt called for “economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants.”
Freedom from fear. Roosevelt framed this basic freedom as a reduction in armaments to reduce war and violence. Today, it translates into quelling the nuclear arms race. Trump gets credit for engaging North Korea (although we worry he’s been played). But he fans the flames of fear by killing an arms treaty to denuclearize Iran and, more recently, announcing the withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council.
America is a land of promise, a place that has thrived on shared sacrifice for the common good. It’s hope and opportunity over deceit and greed. It’s love and helping others versus oppression and bigotry. It’s about working out problems and moving forward, not embracing the sins of the past. It’s an ideal that freedom-loving people have aspired to since the days of Jefferson.
We need to move beyond an electorate that’s angry, a milquetoast Congress scared of its own shadow, out-of-control agencies, and a president who struggles with truth daily. Let’s not let the nattering nabobs of negativism, naysayers, greed-panderers and plutocrats fracture our shining city on the hill. We must do better.