May you have a great Fourth of July and share the many traditions of America’s Independence Day–parades, picnics, booths in the parks, baseball games, family reunions, and fireworks, large and small!
And enjoy what swimming, wading, or playing in the sprinklers you can–Mother Nature is kicking off a heatwave.
I find the Fourth of July the most festive of our holidays. Most are sacred or private, but the Fourth–like New Year’s–is openly celebrated with friends and strangers, young and old.
And our shared pride in the ideas and accomplishments of our revolution deserve celebrating.
The United States was the first national democracy. Many countries have looked to our model to create governments which would benefit citizens more than earlier oligarchies and monarchies.
It’s been said that the second paragraph of our Declaration of Independence is the most widely known English sentence in the world.
“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.”
Every person has unalienable rights.
The sentence that follows drives that message home. “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
What a powerful declaration in a world where the governing principle had long been, “Rank has its privileges.” The words didn’t declare war on kings and tycoons, but rather asserted that power comes not from privileged birth or divine intervention, but from the governed.
So this Fourth, we celebrate 242 years of shared belief in the rights of individuals and the limits of government.
But there’s a downside to being the oldest existing democracy. We know that all democracies that came before us–and many that were started since–have eroded internally or been conquered externally.
Today, many articles and books are probing the possible death of American democracy–more so, many believe, than at any time in the last century.
A national poll of American young people, ages 18-29, found that 64% fear for the future of our democracy (Harvard Public Opinion Project, April 2018). Polling Director John Della Volpe said, “There’s a healthy debate raging on the reasons why–politicians, media, big money, political correctness, and structural barriers like racism and access to education…” Volpe added that many young people are searching for ways to save our freedoms.
In the March 1 Foreign Policy, James Traub suggests a reason people fear American democracy is dying..
“,,,across a range of issues, public policy does not reflect the preferences of the majority of Americans. If it did, the country would look radically different: Marijuana would be legal and campaign contributions more tightly regulated; paid parental leave would be the law of the land and public colleges free; the minimum wage would be higher and gun control much stricter; abortions would be more accessible in the early stages of pregnancy and illegal in the third trimester.”
Across the political spectrum, people are feeling ignored.
In 2014 political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page tracked how preferences of different groups had affected government policy on 1,779 issues over the previous 20 years. They found that “economic elites and narrow interest groups” got about half of the changes they wanted and effectively blocked every change they didn’t want. Mass-based interest groups and ordinary citizens, however, had “only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
So, as we celebrate our freedoms this Fourth, we must resolve join young people in the fight to maintain them.