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Today’s a good day to go back and read the Declaration of Independence, signed by those brave colonists throwing off the yoke of oppression and starting this grand experiment in self-governance.
It goes: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
They carried on with the collective spirit when they wrote the Constitution 13 years later and began it with the phrase “We the people …”
Americans are clearly divided today. But our founders spoke in one voice. They referred to their compatriots as “we” and talked about equality, even though they were really only speaking for certain White men. We’re still working on coming to terms with that mistake all these years later.
The colonists chose this as their number one gripe about King George III: “He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”
Funny thing. We’re talking about what’s necessary for the public good today, too.
They also complained that local governors had to wait for the King’s OK to pass certain laws, but then the King was neglectful of their needs. He got in the way of their attempts at self-rule. He obstructed justice.
He put standing armies within the people, made the military independent of civilian power. Things get gory after that, with plundered seas, ravaged coasts, burnt towns and destroyed lives.
Face masks seem like small change next to that level of oppression. But we’re at a strange moment where the idea of freedom is being fetishized to reject the slightest of inconveniences.
That’s the kind of freedom that was on display when President Donald Trump celebrated the Fourth of July at Mount Rushmore on Friday night.
At the same time, the fact that actual, meaningful freedom has been granted to Americans on a sliding scale is no longer in doubt.
Still, the fact that the Declaration was written by a slave owner and signed by other slave owners should not wreck its importance, even as we begin again to recontextualize it through 244 years of often painful growth.
US democracy is still good democracy. Just compare our coming election with the one they conducted in Russia this week, which gives Vladimir Putin a glide path to another 16 years in charge.
We’re going to remain divided on many things, for a long time yet, but if we could just all unite on wearing face masks for a while to get this pandemic under control, we can get through this.