Our nation’s 245th birthday finds America riven by political division. 150 million: Number of hot dogs eaten on the Fourth of July. (iStock) circlePS
Leave the political fireworks out
Ben Carson July 04, 06:00 AM July 04, 06:00 AM
Our nation’s 245th birthday finds America riven by political division.
We do not need to consult charts and polls to see that our nation brims over with political resentment and social upheaval. At times, it has been easier to mark the passage of seasons by our public controversies. And not, as we would hope, by our public holidays.
That is why I am banning politics on the Fourth of July. Folks might object that such authority is beyond my reach, or at least that it stops at my backyard fence. I admit that my legislative powers are quite limited. That said, people will naturally rally around a law that is so clearly just and good. I have faith that my unilateral proclamation will be widely observed on a voluntary basis.
In case this one-day ban on politics is appealed to the Supreme Court (doubtful, but even then, I would expect a 9-0 decision to uphold it), I could marshal supporting arguments from great Americans of ages past. At the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin is supposed to have said, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Franklin’s legendary humor communicated a serious truth: The men who pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to the cause of liberty could not afford to squabble and feud.
The point holds. From the beginning, our experiment required popular unity in order to succeed. The father of our country agreed. In George Washington’s famous Farewell Address, he reminded Americans that “the alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge … is itself a frightful despotism.” Abraham Lincoln reminded a nation on the brink of a terrible civil war that “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Of course, many people, including my ancestors, were for generations unjustly excluded from the promise of freedom made in the Declaration of Independence. It is reasonable to ask whether the signing of that historic document should be a cause for unity and festivity. I cannot compose a better answer than those heroes who had the best reason to complain, yet gave the best reason to rejoice.
A decade before the Emancipation Proclamation, Frederick Douglass said, “The Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.” And in the words of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Never before in the history of the world has a sociopolitical document expressed in such profound, eloquent, and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality. The American dream reminds us — and we should think about it anew on this Independence Day — that every man is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth.”
Dr. King lauded the declaration’s universality, noting that “it says ‘all men,’ which includes black men.” As these great Americans recognized, the Declaration of Independence is a guiding star for freedom, for civil rights, and for unity. It states that everyone’s rights are “endowed by their Creator” and “that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.”
That remains true today. Yes, there is still injustice and tragedy in our society, things that follow people wherever they go. But on July 4, we recognize that the American ideal fights against those dark forces. Americans today are some of the freest people in human history. We are free to vote, worship, read, write, learn, grow, and prosper. And yes, we are free to argue about politics all day long.
But this weekend, let us put aside such arguments. Let us stop checking Twitter. Let us invite family and neighbors to share food and drink — perhaps especially those with whom we argue the other 364 days of the year. Instead, let us talk of our children and their futures. Of graduates and veterans, newborns and the dear departed, bad jokes and good times. Of baseball and of fireflies. And together, let us celebrate the day that made all our future celebrations possible.
Ben Carson is the founder and chairman of the American Cornerstone Institute and the former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
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