“We hold these truths to be self-evident…”
A friend and I have been discussing what presently holds America together. It’s a grandiose question full of dire import (the end of the Republic, the death of America) and the potential for overwrought hand-wringing and silly wishful thinking (if only we had a George Washington!).
Both Left and Right and had staked out their territory on their respective positions and demographics. As of 2016 we seemed heading towards a turning point: would the Left finally triumph in a definitive sense? Was this the Flight 93 election? The tribes were well-established, the battle lines drawn, but then along came Trump who not only rewrote the political playbook, but re-framed American politics and national identity. What has he done?
Whither Have We Come? Whither Shall We Go?
From the start, America was a pragmatic and propositional nation. The early colonies didn’t exactly get along with each other. The constitutional convention was called for out of necessity, and the resulting constitution bears the marks of compromise. To call the American founding purely pragmatic, though, would be to miss the significance the Founders and their compatriots placed on ideals (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) and the importance of sound character (Never tell a lie. Early to bed, early to rise…etc.). Bereft of these propositions, Americans feared a descent into tyranny. The Founders were optimistic, though wary of human failings. The Constitution itself was designed to keep human ambitions and passions in check but was not sufficient to curb abuse. Men must be self-governing. As Lincoln put it some years later, “If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be its author and finisher.” The American experiment could work if Americans remained good citizens. Continue reading