Today marks the birthday of the United States of America, at least in terms of being the day that the Founding Fathers published the Declaration of Independence from Britain on July 4, 1776. That makes our country 241 years old which means that we are still really just youngsters in relation to other countries around the world.
Our government has made it through almost two and a half decades but not without a few ups and downs. Somehow our democratic republic has managed to stay intact thanks to the wisdom of the men who designed our Constitution. For better or worse their ideas appear to continue to work, but all of us sense that we have yet to achieve the perfection that we desire. In the long history of the world there has yet to be a flawless union of diverse people and ideas, so perhaps we are sometimes a bit too hard on ourselves. Still we long for a land in which people of varying cultures, backgrounds and beliefs will be able to live together in harmony. Perhaps ours is a pipe dream but it is built on what was perhaps the most audacious and daring experiment in freedom that history has ever witnessed. It seems to be in our DNA to want a nation in which everyone enjoys a full measure of justice and opportunity.
All of us can recite the problems that our country has sometimes ignored and other times attempted to unravel. We might spend hours outlining the injustices that were part of our past and some which continue into our present, but what’s done is done and our only goal should be to continue to move to an ever more just system. It does little good for any of us to stand in judgement of our nation’s architects given that we did not walk in their shoes.
I suspect that those men who developed the idea of becoming a free and independent country understood that getting everyone to agree on one document would be almost impossible, and so they were willing to make compromises along the way in the hopes that one day as the nation evolved the citizenry would be willing to accept new ideas and make changes to help our country grow ever stronger. To a large extent we have accomplished just that, but at the same time the world itself has become more and more complex. It is very difficult to read into our future because we are members of a massive global community in which there is a very delicate balance. As the saying goes, if a butterfly flaps its wings in Africa we all feel the effects of the flutter.
The world as we know it today is chaotic. People everywhere are searching for answers to very difficult questions. Just as with the ultimate design of our Constitution, there are no simple resolutions. Sometimes we have to compromise to keep the steady heartbeat of democracy alive. We find ourselves more and more often wondering just how much change is good and how much is too much. These were the same eternal questions that kept the signers of the Declaration of Independence awake at night.
Some of my ancestors stayed to fight the battles and some of my husband’s left for Nova Scotia to remain loyal to Britain. Who could have known back then where all of the furor would lead? Who would have dreamed that one day the entire world would be looking to our nation as a power?
In spite of my reservations about the ways in which our government runs on this day I still believe that I live in the best land on earth. I have traveled to other countries and viscerally felt the difference between our nation and theirs. On a recent trip to Mexico I was treated kindly and felt very welcome. The experience was quite lovely in all regards, but in the background were the heavily armed guards at the airport whose presence in military uniform was difficult to ignore. I enjoyed visiting the ruins of the Mayan civilization but could not help but note that the rest stop where we lingered just long enough to take care of our needs was surrounded by men in body armor who bore big guns at the ready in case of trouble. Our tour guide joked about such things and then reminded us that we should not try our adventure alone. I felt safe but had a strange sense of foreboding that I do not encounter in the place where I live.
We have a president who is struggling with his role and a Congress that seems to be incapable of working together as our Founding Fathers once did. We insist on all or nothing in our governing which has led to a great divide that far too closely resembles the state of affairs when our nation was not quite one hundred years old. We toss aside politicians who appear to want to compromise for the betterment of everyone and instead cast our lots with rabble rousers who refuse to acknowledge the things that we have in common. We forget that the our beginnings were imperfect but managed to give us a starting point. Today’s atmosphere would have kept us under the rule of Britain and we’d all be singing “God Save the Queen” if men like Madison and Hamilton, Adams and Jefferson had not been able to come to an agreement that began the process of establishing our republic.
I love my country and continue to have great hope for it. We will soon enough settle down and find ways to move forward together. It is something that we always seem to eventually do. I long for politicians who will unite us rather than divide. I believe that incremental progress is inevitable. So Happy Birthday, United States of America. Long may your banners wave. Let’s hope we can guide you through your adolescent years and into a future that will unite us as never before. I have faith in you. God bless.