This Fourth of July, I watched part of the Public Broadcasting Service’, “A Capitol Fourth.” This live TV program aired from the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol was, for the most part, a pretty good show. But one matter stuck out as very odd to me.
At the start of the show, the host elegantly described the vast diversity of the United States, but then claimed that what brings us all together is a shared belief that the United States is the best nation in the world. Really? This is the idea for which Americans have fought and died for in the last 240 years — that we are the best? I don’t think so.
I suppose that most of us, and especially folks who have travelled to other countries, would say that the United States is indeed a great country — and it may well be the best. But what binds us together is not the notion that we are the best, but the pride we have in WHY the United States is the best.
The United States is a unique country. Our nation was founded from the very beginning on certain ideas, incorporated in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. These are not simply organizational ideas, they were, and are, foundational ideas. Fortunately, they are also the right ideas. These are ideas that were considered by the Founding Fathers to be “truths” deemed to be “self-evident.” In the words of the Declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This was followed up in our Constitution by more ideas, such as the belief that the power of government should be limited, and that people should be secure in their persons from the government taking away their speech, their religious practices, and their ability to defend themselves.
Indeed, when President Abraham Lincoln tried to capture the essence of the American Civil War in his speech at Gettysburg, he focused on these very ideas. He noted that our nation was “. . . dedicated to the proposition [idea] that all men are created equal.” And he concluded that if this truth was indeed TRUTH, to let states declare otherwise would mean that a government conceived on ideas would perish from the earth. This idea was so precious that thousands of Americans died defending it.
What the PBS host failed to say in this years show, is that it is not the belief that America is great that unites us, it is, or should be, the belief that the ideas upon which America was founded were the right ideas. These are ideas that we should cherish and teach our children.
As Indiana celebrates its bicentennial this year, I encourage you to take some time and reflect on the ideas upon which Indiana was founded. You will find them in Indiana’s Constitution, dated 1851, but don’t let that concern you. Most of the ideas in Indiana’s Constitution predated Indiana. But, nevertheless, we are blessed to live where these ideas are not only present, but are still cherished.
Yes, we live in perhaps the greatest nation in the world. But if we forget why this is so, we will no longer be the greatest nation. Indeed, we are a diverse group of people. Should we lose sight of the ideas that bind us together, we may not even continue as a nation at all.
Rep. Tom Washburne (R-Evansville) serves has chairman of the Courts and Criminal Code Committee. He represents Gibson County and portions of Knox, Pike, Vanderburgh, and Posey counties.