Random Observations on the Fourth
“I believe in the United States of America as a Government of the people by the people, for the people, whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a Republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect Union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.
“I therefore believe it is my duty to my Country to love it; to support its Constitution; to obey its laws; to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.”
I wonder how many people are familiar with this quotation.
It is known as “The American’s Creed,” and was written in 1917 by William Tyler Page, a descendant of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and of the 10th president, John Tyler.
The creed was written about a year after the United States entered World War I. The spirit of patriotism was popular. But the Great Depression was still eleven years away, the death of Franklin Roosevelt, arguably the most beloved president of the 20th century, wouldn’t happen for another 48 years. The shocking death of President Kennedy was still 56 in the future. And while there was a September 11th on the calendar that year, the day that changed what that particular date meant to history wouldn’t happen for 84 years.
Or, to put it another way, times were very different.
Note that I said different. Not necessarily better. There have always been problems, because there is never any possible outcome to a situation that will universally please everyone. There were plenty of people willing to speak up for their opinions back then, too.
But it seems to me — and I may be wrong — that back then, there wasn’t this apparent need to divide that we have today. Our current president has a lot to do with that, but he certainly didn’t invent the popularity of division, even if he has been quite successful at manipulating it to his advantage, and his party’s disadvantage.
The two most divisive people in the current presidential race are probably John McCain and Hillary Clinton. Is that a good thing? I’m not sure. Not all division is bad: at least, it can inspire genuine debate. Ironically, one of the most divisive groups at the moment is the Christian Right, which should want to unite at every opportunity.
Debate today isn’t about discussion. It’s about getting personal. Calling people names. Calling people uneducated. Calling people insensitive or uncaring. And there are few kinds of treatment that one can receive that can make them more insensitive and uncaring than the constant barrage many face today. It’s all about cause and effect.
The spirit of patriotism is still alive in this country, as it was back in 1917. But today’s patriotism is dependent on a series of conditions and codicils: we support the troops but not the war, we support the Constitution but not the interpretations applied to it, Religious freedom but not specific religions, Freedom of Speech but not the right to say anything freely.
Somehow, the optimistic writers of yesteryear that set out to unite as many people as possible in this country with pieces like “The American’s Creed” probably never imagined a culture as fractured as ours. If they did, they probably never imagined that such a condition would be the norm.
The question is, what must it take for people to set aside the anger, the hostility and the presumption and actually unite?