A few days ago, I started writing a post for the 4th of July. Upon completing a first draft, I asked my wife (who is sweet enough to read my work before I publish it), for her opinion. After reading through it, she looked at me with a frown.
“It’s good,” she explained, “but I just don’t think people are going to get it. You’re writing assumes that everyone is proud of America, but I feel like our generation has lost that.”
Turns out, my wife was right (as usual). Last year, a Gallup poll revealed that an all-time low percentage of adults in the U.S. are proud to be Americans. Perhaps not surprisingly, millennials are the least patriotic demographic in the country, followed by liberals.
I don’t think millennials have rejected patriotism because they don’t believe in American ideals. They’ve rejected patriotism because they don’t know what America stands for. Studies have shown that students in our public education system fail to demonstrate even a basic level of understanding of how American government is supposed to work. While only one in ten eighth graders have an acceptable understanding of American government, students are routinely exposed to socialist principles throughout their education. It’s no wonder that a majority of millennials favor socialism: they were never taught about the alternative.
When we do discuss American history in education, it’s in an increasingly negative light. Students are far more likely to learn about the number of Native Americans who died from small-pox due to European settlers than they are to learn about the millions killed by communism.
If millennials don’t even understand the basic founding principles of the United States, then it only makes sense that they don’t take pride in being Americans. Millennials aren’t apathetic towards America because they don’t like what it stands for; they’re apathetic because they don’t know what it means to be an American.
What Does America Stand For?
So, what does it mean to be an American? America, unlike every other country in the history of humanity, is based on an idea. Being an American is not about where you were born, what race you are, or what religion you hold to. America is about ideas, and that is what makes America great.
What are these ideas that make America so great? I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who could express it more eloquently than I could. In fact, Thomas Jefferson expressed American ideals in the document we celebrate every 4th of July: The Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration is one of the most celebrated documents of modern times, and rightly so. The Declaration of Independence is remarkable because it places a higher priority on people than it does on government. The Declaration is the culmination of decades of settlers leaving Europe in search of freedom from oppressive governments. It is a timeless document, because it codified the things that we already know to be true about the way the world ought to be.
We hold these truths to be self-evident
The Founders believed that there is absolute truth in nature; laws that are self-evident. They believed that there are certain rights and freedoms which every man has, that are inherent in nature apart from the government. This is profound, although it’s easy to lose sight of the significance in today’s culture.
The alternative to natural law is “might makes right.” Without some sense of natural law, the country with the biggest army gets to set the rules. When societies ignore natural law, anything goes. The notions of right and wrong lose their meaning, because without natural law there is no absolute standard against which to compare.
The colonists fought the war for independence from Britain because they believed that natural law takes precedence over kings and governments. The bulk of the Declaration is a list of offenses by the British government towards the colonists. Many of the offenses were technically legal, but they violated natural law. The Founders believed that even powerful governments are subject to natural law and the rights that it provides.
That all men are created equal
Related to the notion of natural rights is the idea that all people have a fundamental, intrinsic value simply because they are human. Jefferson expressed this idea when he said that “all men are created equal.” The American system of values holds that people deserve equal treatment under the law, without favoritism, because of their intrinsic value as humans.
In modern politics, the notion of “equality” is frequently used to justify laws which promote inequality. Affirmative action laws are a classic example. In the name of “equality,” the government requires schools and businesses to discriminate against people based on their race, for the sole purpose of maintaining what the government deems to be appropriate ratios between demographics. Affirmative action laws award special status to some people simply based on their race. Such laws are the exact opposite of equality under the law.
That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness
Politicians use the concept of “rights” rather flippantly to refer to whatever latest social agenda they’re advancing. “Right to education,” “right to healthcare,” “right to a livable wage,” and so on. By using the word “right” when they really mean “government-funded entitlement,” politicians are intentionally confusing the issue. This casts anyone who opposes the latest “right” as an evil tyrant, intent upon robbing their constituents of their humanity. But these entitlements aren’t rights, or at least not rights in the sense that our Founders used the word.
The rights to which the Founders were referring, the “unalienable rights” spoken of in the Declaration, are rights that the government does not have the power to give. The dictionary defines “unalienable” as unable to be taken away or given. Unalienable rights are rights which the government does not have the power to grant or to revoke.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not things that the government can create through a tax-payer funded program. All the government can do is protect those rights. And, in fact, that is the primary purpose of government: to secure these rights.
Life is the first of the unalienable rights. Without the right to life, none of the other rights have meaning. It should go without stating, and yet the right to life is continually under assault in our modern society. Obviously, the right to live before being born is nonexistent. But even after birth, the right to life is under attack.
In Europe, the “right to die” takes precedence over the right to life in cases where an arbitrary court rules that death is better than life for the patient. The U.S. isn’t far behind, with several states allowing “death with dignity,” and many more considering such laws. Currently, doctor assisted suicide in the U.S. is limited to patients who request it, but in several European countries, doctors are allowed to prescribe euthanasia in cases where they feel it is the best alternative, regardless of the patient’s wishes. If Europe is any indication, the right to life in the United States will be under heavy assault in coming years.
Next to life, liberty is the most fundamental natural right. America is a nation founded on the principle of liberty. It’s at the core of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Liberty means that, whenever possible, individuals ought to be able to make decisions for themselves, without the government telling them what to do. The only time that the government has any business telling an individual what they should or shouldn’t do is when one individual’s actions infringe upon the rights of another individual.
The concept of liberty gives birth to many of the most highly revered American values. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press are all manifestations of individual liberty. In modern society, all of these are under attack. Bernie Sanders believes that someone who holds to the fundamentals of Christianity is unfit to serve in the federal government. A majority of Democrats support laws that criminalize “hate speech.” Anti-abortion groups are being prosecuted for reporting on Planned Parenthood. Our most cherished liberties, even those enshrined in the Bill of Rights, are under constant attack.
Pursuit of Happiness
Pursuit of happiness relates to liberty. This is the idea that the government ought not be in the business of telling you how to live your life. It isn’t the government’s job to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. The government in the United States has increasingly taken on the role of the “nanny state,” passing laws intended to protect people from themselves. This is never what the founders intended.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
The main purpose of government, according to the Founders, was to protect the natural rights of its citizens. This leads to the notion of limited government.
Limited government is the idea that the government should do as little as possible to interfere with the private lives of its citizens. It’s inextricably connected with the notion of liberty, and the freedom to pursue happiness. The government’s job isn’t to make us happy; it’s to protect our rights and freedoms. We pursue our own happiness. The government’s job is to provide us the protections we need to do so.
The Declaration does more than advocate for limited government. It explicitly states that it is not only a right, but a duty to throw off a government which becomes destructive of these ends. The Founders believed that government should be carefully controlled by the people. Today, we live in a society where people are carefully controlled by the government.
The government controls our economy, regulates how we may obtain mortgages, controls how efficient our dishwashers must be, and mandates what children are allowed to eat for lunch, to list just a few offenses. Our government has far, far overstepped its purpose of protecting natural, unalienable rights. In fact, the government has become the biggest offender in violating our rights. This is a government that has “become destructive” to the end of protecting the rights of its people.
Remembering What Makes Us Proud
It’s really no wonder that so many in my generation have lost sight of what it means to be Americans. The ideals that the Founders fought for have eroded away to a mere shadow of what they used to be.
Sure, we talk about rights, but usually only in the context of politicians pushing for some new government expansion. We acknowledge liberty, as long as our personal liberty doesn’t offend someone else or hurt their feelings. We say we value life, while the government encourages abortions and gives the doctors the authority to euthanize the mentally disabled. We sing about how proud we are to be Americans, but we’ve stopped doing the things that define America.
Ronald Reagan once said: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
Let’s not let that be true of our generation. On Tuesday, we celebrated the birth of our nation. Today, take some time to remember what America is all about. Read the Declaration. Read the Constitution. Think about what makes America what it is. It’s not enough to chant “U.S.A.” and wave around American flags. We need to embrace what our country stands for, and continue to fight for it. Let’s take some time today to remember what America stands for. These are ideas we can all be proud of.