When I asked my five-year-old grandson what he knew about George Washington, all he could say was, “He owned slaves.” That’s how Washington is remembered today: slaves, bad teeth, and a face on the dollar bill. But he won the Revolutionary War by sheer force of character; the precedents he set as our first chief executive embodied the ideology of freedom and remain in effect today. Other great men of similar talents behaved quite differently. Napoleon began as first consul, then promoted himself to emperor. Simón Bolívar went from liberator to dictator. By contrast, Washington voluntarily and with much relief relinquished power and ended his days as a farmer at Mount Vernon. That was unusual, unlikely—and exceptional.
The Civil War could have resulted in nothing more than a brutal power play—the North and the West devouring the South much like Bismarck’s Prussia swallowed the German principalities. That didn’t happen because Abraham Lincoln gave the war a profound moral dimension. The “last best hope” for human freedom, he insisted, was at stake. It was Lincoln who defined our exceptionalism. He believed we were the first nation to rise above the accidents of history and be “dedicated to a proposition.” Yet an ideology of freedom couldn’t coexist with chattel slavery. The slaughter of war was the punishment for that monstrous contradiction. Lincoln’s second inaugural address, a towering moral document, reads like a combination of a Greek tragedy and a lost book from the Bible. He was, to put it mildly, an uncommon politician.
In times of need, other Americans have stepped into the breach with remarkable regularity. When the Great Depression shook our way of life to its foundation, Franklin Roosevelt rejected “fear itself” and restored faith in representative democracy. When the Cold War against the forces of unfreedom appeared eternally deadlocked, Ronald Reagan could conceive only of a single outcome: “We win, they lose”—and so it was.
When the disgrace of Jim Crow segregation needed to be atoned for and eradicated, we should have expected, and certainly deserved, rage and hatred for the oppressors from the black leadership. Instead, we got a magnificently eloquent preacher who practiced nonviolence and taught Christian forgiveness. As anyone can tell who has read “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. was nobody’s pushover. “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor,” he wrote; “it must be demanded by the oppressed.” But he quoted the words of the Founders in front of the temple to Lincoln in Washington, D.C.—appealing to the American ideology of freedom and demanding a share of it for all Americans. And so began the long process of healing the nation.
Great excerpt. It definitely points to our need to start listening to and following our better angels.
To prepare for tonight, in light of being woke up at 6:00 am by a loud BOOM…
I’m reading Jon Meacham’s book about Lincoln right now. Maybe our best president, though at the time he often travelled incognito because public sentiment was very angry, him being recognized was a safety issue. It weighed very heavily on his mind.
In 2023, I sense there’s a social reconciliation going on.
Washington had slaves. Jefferson had kids with slaves. Civil War & Jim Crow. Henry Ford was anti-semitec. The Catholic church covered up heiness behavior by priests, televangelists (and “history”) have helped fuel a rapid decline in religion, particularly among the youth.
Whitewashing history & teaching a sanitized version leads to disillusionment. It’s actually pretty insulting, even if those who came before had positive intentions to build national pride, a coherent national narrative devoid of nuance.
That’s a big aspect of what we’re going through right now, IMO. “What else didn’t you tell us about?”
In the thesis > anti-thesis > synthesis tradition, I think we’ll soon see the majority of people aren’t expecting perfection, they’re just expecting honesty.
We have issues to work through, but we’ve also seen pure evil in current and recent events, here & abroad. We have pretty serious challenges, we need to stay connected with our fellow Americans, dissipate the angry poison media/social media feeds us.
Half Full: Who knows where we’d be if Raffensburger, Ducey and Pence hadn’t done the right thing? We’re in a bumpy sea - like many times before - but there is good reason to be optimistic about America, overall.
A 247 year project that overall has improved over the long view. Not perfect, not done… but when everything is reconciled and the alternatives are evaluated, I’m proud.
The US flag belongs to everyone. Don’t care if it’s perceived differently by one group or another. I’m putting mine up right now.
We have an important task ahead of us, and we need to get it right. We can’t whitewash history, and at the same time we can’t focus on a microscopic evaluation of the perceived misdeeds or black marks in some great person’s life and actions. No one alive or dead could survive such scrutiny. We have to tell the whole story. While doing so, we have to include some fairness, some nuance, and yes, often a measure of forgiveness.
Hence the better angels comment I made. I don’t know about y’all, but I am getting really sick of this First Day of Festivus/Groundhog Day mashup we have been reliving over and over for the last eight years. It’s ridiculous, dangerous, negative as hell, and will never improve the bottom line of our nation as we move forward.
Enjoy the day, remember the governance experiment actually can (and does) work; and we as a nation are only successful when we lift those in the most need from their afflictions and open the doors of opportunities to them. Remember Americans don’t exclude people from the table, we add chairs and invite them to the feast.
I think this micro-focusing has been mostly about telling the complete story. (There are always other agendas, but Americans can see through that.)
Maybe the biggest “scandal” about the Founders in the past quarter century has been the DNA proof of Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings. One side of the family really, really did not want to believe it. Now, nobody really cares, it was part of his fascinating, complicated life.
None of us here have a problem with nuance. Life is complicated, but that doesn’t mean ideals are defunct.
50 years ago there was a somewhat popular push-back phrase: America: Love it or Leave it
The American experiment has always been about pushing the boundaries and asking ourselves uncomfortable questions, from the unfinished business the Founders left us to Topaz to some “new” history getting a fuller reading from Juneteenth.
We can handle it, we can accommodate imperfection, we can even retrospectively address issues that have been festering.
Some people went ballistic when Clinton formally apologized for how Hawai’i became US territory, but all the polling today suggests the sovereignty movement in our 50th state is well below majority sentiment.
America’s ability to deal with these thorny issues is what makes me most proud. Compare how we’ve done things with, say, the CCP. Or Putin - we’re seeing how flimsy his model is, and so is China. Don’t expect them to open up about Tiananmen Square any time soon. They can’t. It blows the cover.
We have issues… but we’re doing OK. Pretty damn good, in a number of ways.
Happy 4th of July to our 1st responders. Just got a speeding ticket and I asked the officer to go easy on me as I hadn’t had coffee yet. Apparently he hadn’t either.
This is the best piece I have seen on the subject. It was published a year ago and it seems significant to me that the author is William Bennett, a conservative intellectual who served in Reagan’s cabinet.
July 4 is the most sacred date on the American civic calendar. This year marks the 246th time Americans have celebrated the monumental achievement of founding a nation that, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, was “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
But the celebration comes with hard truths of history. The Fourth reminds us of Americans’ struggle, as the Constitution puts it, to “form a more perfect union.” The stain of human bondage sparked the Civil War. The suffragettes of the 19th and early 20th centuries fought for the right to vote. Japanese-Americans during World War II were forced into internment camps. And men such as Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. paid with their lives to attain equality long denied to African-Americans. When we consider our past, sober reflection should accompany joyful celebration.
Crucially, such reflection must happen in our public schools. Liberals and conservatives alike have been guilty of playing down aspects of the American story in the classroom. Some on the left wrongly attempt to reduce our history to an ugly saga of patriarchy and racism. Others explain our country through an ideologically driven framework that sees America as permanently tainted by the original sin of slavery. Some conservatives have minimized how slavery, racism and discrimination have inflicted scars on our nation.
The vast majority of Americans—left, right and center—are united against indoctrination but supportive of candid instruction and thoughtful debate. Here’s a challenge for educators and all citizens: Let children examine our history with eyes wide open. Families don’t want their children caught up in political games. If we help them, our children can be stronger and more capable of discerning fact from opinion, discussion from indoctrination, than we give them credit for.
All Americans should be concerned about any indoctrination of children. But content addressing America’s difficult history of race relations, including today’s challenges, isn’t necessarily evidence of that. Achievements in the realm of civil rights have happened through an imperfect process spanning more than two centuries. The struggles of Americans like King and Frederick Douglass are lessons in striving toward the “more perfect union” of the Founders’ imagination. And they are worth teaching.
The American public-school system must teach both the galling and glorious aspects of U.S. history. As Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has said, “We can teach all of our history, the good, the bad, and Virginia’s children will be better for it.” While it isn’t always a comfortable process, teaching children America’s complete history in an age-appropriate way, with parental awareness, is necessary for their own sake and for our country’s.
Doing so will help take politics out of education. It will prepare kids for the real world, where preventing hurt feelings doesn’t take precedence over facing uncomfortable facts. And it will instill in our children the ability to entertain ideas they may disagree with—an essential condition for a functioning democracy.
American exceptionalism is real, but fragile. Teaching the full story of American history will encourage the next generations of Americans in their own progress toward a more perfect union. America is still, as Lincoln said, “the last best hope of Earth.” If we tell the full story of the American past, it will help write a bright story of the American future.
Mr. Bennett served as U.S. education secretary, 1985-88.
At the risk of diverting entirely into R&P, I’ll keep my comments on that article to myself.
My neighborhood sounded like a gorram war zone until nearly 1:30am last night. It was absolutely ridiculous.
As I get older, July 4 has become one of my least favorite holidays…for lots of reasons.
I hear it is been pretty bad in gorram for at least the last few years.
Happy wish I could go back to bed July 5th
We have two groups in fairly close proximity that must spend thousands of dollars each year on fireworks, and it’s really beyond annoying. Non-stop starting about 9:00pm until nearly midnight. One they were firing off last night was clearly meant to sound like gun fire. I don’t get the jollies of it. I like a professional fireworks show, but it’s gotten to be too much the last few years. It’s like these people think their patriotism is a measure of how much they’re willing to spend on aerials each year. It’s not.
I would love to be able to fire off some really loud fireworks right in front of some of those folks houses…at about 5 in the morning.
The only thing stopping me is that I wouldn’t spend that kind of money. I would rather use it wisely in Wendover.
Gorram is an exclamation used to express anger and frustration . Written use of the word dates to at least the 1850s. It was frequently used in the TV series Firefly. Gorram carries approximately the same meaning and emotional connotations as the American English term, “God damn.”
I picked it up from Firefly, sounds much more civilized than the alternative.
For those of us who have dogs that freak out over the fireworks noise, these are a solution for many owners:
ThunderShirt works wonders, or at least did for our dog who was bothered by loud sudden noises. We put it on her initially, and played ball with her for 15 or 20 mins. Took the shirt off, for a bit. Eventually she associated the ThunderShirt with the fun of ball or hanging out with us. It helped her immensely with her noise anxiety.
They should make one for people !!
Late to this party but we took our dogs to the Alta View hospital parking lot which has a stellar view of about 2/3 of the Salt Lake Valley. We were there probably from 8:30 - 10:30.
The dogs were more interested in the activity of the (numerous) people around us than the boom-booms. Being in close proximity to us the entire evening while we were calm no doubt helped. The snacks my wife kept feeding them certainly helped. I told her to be very grateful our dogs can handle fireworks in stride.
We got to see so many aerials launched by private individuals that must spend hundreds or someone suggested above thousands of dollars for this. They were so consistent all night we actually lost interest by the time the professional shows started.
We did the same viewing from the parking lot last year and the night was punctuated by a big fire somewhere in Sandy. That’s when everyone packed up and went home.
I think allowing aerials to be sold in Utah was a big mistake and they need to be outlawed again. I saw some that didn’t just fly above the property they launched from, but exploded several hundred feet to the side over other homes. I don’t know about you but I’d be royally pissed off if someone ignited my roof from three houses away.
Yes, what’s up with that anyway? Do the fireworks companies have effective lobbyists at the legislature? Or is this a county by county decision?
I wouldn’t be surprised if one or more of the legislators own fireworks companies. It would be par for the course.