The United States Constitution holds a unique place in history. The Framers stepped away from the customs and tyrannies of the past to devise a new model for governance envisioned for a free and civilized people. It 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 defend what we wish to preserve?
If we let this inheritance die, what will we have lost?
The record of American history has been rough-hewn. How could we expect anything like perfection when we have gathered the human race together from across the world into the natural restlessness of a democratic republic?
We are blessed with a structure for governance that has channeled creativity and contentiousness into a dynamic force for capacity-building and prosperity. The Founders made an effort to ‘see the end in the beginning’, but they knew the future was beyond their ability to imagine.
We now stand at another great turning point in history, another moment that requires a visionary maturity from Americans of all stripes, colors, and viewpoints.
I do not refer to the current political turmoil as such a turning point. Rather, I speak of something far greater and more profound, a shift in attitudes and perspective which has been building for many decades, and which will require at least a generation to fully comprehend.
In the coming years we must find our way through a sequence of crises that transcend partisan politics.
As in the past, many of our troubles will be caused by foolishness, mistaken assumptions and a lack of responsibility and foresight. Change comes slowly. Shamelessness and iniquity have walked together on this land.
However, the future will also be impacted by the inevitability of structural change—which is beyond anyone’s control. The world is undergoing major shifts in physical and economic circumstances.
The oncoming and irresistible forces we can expect will include the undisciplined advance of technology, exponential population growth, and the limits of agriculture and other natural resources.
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 remains an extraordinary model of spirit and governance, despite the blemishes.
I think it more reasonable to understand 200 years as the age of maturity, shaped by experience and illuminated by the context of a disturbed world. The nation is coming of age and in a time of natural volatility.
Let’s be clear: Americans are responsible for the trust our forebears have placed in us, and for the unique heritage of the American idea.
It is a trust that no other nation has the vision, the strength of will or the generosity of spirit, to embrace. Brought into focus by the foresight and wisdom of the American Founders, it shines even now from the darkness, a beacon amidst dangers and hardships.
Yes, human imperfections remain. Those who point to the evils and injustices of the past and present are serving a necessary role. While we should not forget the ignoble or wrongly conceived actions of the past, it is not useful to condemn the vision and character that give us our strength.
Questions also remain. Thoughtful citizens will consider the requirements liberty imposes on the way we manage civil discourse, our disagreements and decision-making.
Surely there can be no freedom for thought, for creativity, for social and economic advancement in the absence of the civility and self-discipline that allow us to engage freely and without fear.
Recognizing the need for social order and stability, upon which all else depends, a practical question confronts us each day: Have we matured as individuals to the degree that we can represent our personal views patiently, listen with understanding, and, when necessary, live with our differences?
The crisis-fueled tensions of the early 21st century leave us wondering.
The future depends on our ability to engage in problem-solving, and to accept our differences within the supporting constraints of shared values.
If we fail—we could lose everything.
Please look for the next post on or about December 15.
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