The United States Constitution holds a unique place in the history of the world. The framers devised a new model for governance in 1787, conceived with a vision that has endured for more than two hundred years.
Are we willing to overlook the subsequent missteps and mistakes, the rude and selfish behavior, to consider what is truly of value to us? Are we prepared to step forward to reconstruct and defend what we wish to preserve?
If we let this inheritance die, what will we have lost?
The record has not always been pretty, but how could we expect anything like perfection when we have gathered the human race together from across the world into the managed chaos of a democratic republic?
We are blessed with a brilliantly conceived structure for governance that has channeled the creative genius of the world’s people into a dynamic force for capacity-building and prosperity.
As I tried to illustrate in the previous post, the framers made a studied effort to see the end in the beginning. We now stand at another profound turning point in history, a moment that will require a similar visionary maturity from Americans of all colors, stripes, and viewpoints.
There are those who think 200 years is a reasonable age for a democratic republic to reach its’ natural demise. However, the United States of America is not just any democratic republic. And, I have yet to hear the voices of failure suggest an ultimate outcome.
I think it more reasonable to understand 200 years as the age of maturity, influenced in part by the affairs of the world, when this nation must necessarily come of age.
We have responsibility for a trust that is grounded in the heritage of the American idea. It is the responsibility to provide an immensely complex and now faltering world with the stability required to support the next surge forward by the human race.
This is a trust that no other nation has the vision, the strength of will or generosity of spirit, to embrace. Brought into focus by the vision of the American founders, it shines even now from the darkness, confident amid danger and hardship.
Imperfections remain. Those who point to the evils and injustices of the past are serving a necessary role. We must not forget what was ignoble or wrongly conceived. It is not helpful, however, to condemn the vision and good will that give character to what the world has admired.
Questions remain. Thoughtful citizens will consider the requirements that freedom makes in the way we handle our civil discourse, our disagreements and decision-making. Surely there can be no freedom for thought, for creativity, for economic advancement in the absence of a civil society that provides the space to engage freely and without fear.
Recognizing the necessity for the stable social order upon which all else depends, a practical reality confronts each of us every day. This is where the rubber meets the road.
Have we matured to the degree that we can listen compassionately to one another, explain our own views patiently, and, when necessary, live with our differences?
Do we have the capacity to approach freedom of expression responsibly, to work with one another respectfully? The crises-fueled tensions of the early 21st century leave us wondering.
Ultimately, freedom and prosperity depend upon our ability to engage in meaningful problem-solving, and to accept our differences within the supporting constraints of commonly held principles.
Why should we do this?
Because we are all Americans, that’s why.
Because we can resolve to regain our footing and get ourselves moving again in the right direction. And, because if we fail we could lose everything.
Next week: American Identity, American Heritage