“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 are the most powerful 35 words ever strung together in the English language.
They are the heart and soul of the Declaration of Independence. From those words all other concepts of the American democracy flow.
The Declaration signed 245 years ago in a humid Philadelphia hall devoid of color and women announced the revolutionary American concept of a democracy. That Declaration —along with the operators’ manual known as the Constitution — makes it clear that the task is to never stray from striving to form a more perfect union regardless of how elusive such a lofty goal seems.
It was without a doubt a different world then in terms of technology. It was an era of muskets and printing presses as opposed to automatic weapons and the Internet. Just like weapons and communications have evolved so has the all-inclusiveness of the phrase “all men are created equal.”
There is no doubt today that “all men” refers to all members of the human race regardless of gender, skin tone, or beliefs. While it is clear everyone is not on board, the scales are moving toward a precarious balancing act.
We will never be equal in terms of physical, mental, or emotional attributes because our Creators — whomever or whatever you believe that term references — didn’t turn us out as if we are clones made from the same bland plastic mold. But we must be equal in being allowed to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. The insurmountable holdback should only be the personal limits of our drive and abilities to accomplish or do something, and not an arbitrary edict that we cannot achieve simply based on gender, sexual orientation, race, religious beliefs or abstinence thereof, or ethnicity.
Whatever shortcomings the passage of time and the journey of this nation have exposed about the 56 signers of the document from which all we enjoy today as American citizens originates, it is clear they enabled us as a people to keep moving forward as we deal with shortcomings, challenges, and addressing those threats — internally and externally — that abhor the intent of those 35 words placed high up in the Declaration of Independence.
No one in that Philadelphia hall had the foggiest notion that 245 years later there would be civil unrest tearing down monuments glorifying traitors who sought to deny constitutional rights to an entire class of citizens or that citizens would be wrestling with the notion of what constitutes lawful orders by the government to stem the flow of a pandemic.
But they were forward thinking enough to know that what they were embarking on wasn’t creating a game plan cast in stone governing rights in specific situations decades or even centuries into the future but to provide the foundation and framework to build an all-inclusive house of democracy.
They also were wise enough to stipulate it was “in order to form a more perfect union” as opposed to “in order to form a perfect union.”
It was a nod to the imperfections of human nature and the time it takes to change the heart of those that are the products of centuries of tyranny and governing systems that effectively created castes whether it was through limited “rights”, servitude, slavery, or being born into the peasant class.
In reality, we will never be able to reach the moment when we have formed the perfect union. That’s because social mores and levels of understanding are always evolving while new vistas are opening up through technology and exploration and not just space but the capabilities of human beings.
Perfection isn’t elusive as much as it is a moving target created by changing expectations that keep pushing the goal of what constitutes perfection to loftier heights.
So how bad is the state of the union in 2021? After all we have incessant political bickering, battles over wokeness and political correctness, thinly veiled efforts on both sides to silence free thinking and speech through the Internet equivalent of flash mobs, and wholesale efforts to shame those that dare be different.
You might think America is one big mess but it always has been.
That’s because the revolution didn’t end in 1783. It is still going on.
The “absolutes” nailed down in the Bill of Rights were not cast in a tomb of lead. They are not tools used to micromanage every aspect of life but to apply as litmus tests to make sure the concept and the basic application of those “inalienable rights” are put into practice.
Given the fact a nation such as the United States has 328 million people that interact there would be absolute chaos if there were absolute individual rights.
That means laws governing how we interact must strike a balance without denying the core concept of our rights.
It is easy to understand why there always seems to be a storm blowing or brewing. That’s because the American experience doesn’t relegate the right to rule to a chosen few without the implied consent of the people. Nor does it allow the majority to silence and subject the minority.
The balancing act may be maddeningly slow and seem unjust at times, but it always is when you are seeking lasting change that comes from understanding, compromise and acceptance and not enforced via threats of violence, by edict, or mob rule.
As such America’s public square exchanges have never been meek. What passes as coarse today would in many ways be tame in past decades and centuries. It is amplified and in our face every day not because we have soured on America but communication regarding those who govern and what they propose no longer reach us days later by written letter or printed word delivered by a horse but instantaneously on devices we essentially carry with us — or have within an arm’s reach — 24 hours a day.
America is not falling apart. We are simply doing what we have always been doing since July 4, 1776 — evolving through political revolution.