Another text for the fourth

Published 4:44 pm Monday, July 2, 2018

Today is July 4, Independence Day, the most revered of our national, secular holidays. On this day in 1776, our nation’s founders signed what would become our most cherished public document, the Declaration of Independence.

Traditionally, this newspaper has celebrated this singular holiday by quoting from that document and expounding on the many layers of meaning in its soaring phrases.

Somehow, though, that just didn’t seem appropriate in 2018. This nation has ceded much of the moral high ground that it staked out in that document 242 years ago and that it has maintained through two world wars and numerous crises during its rise to become the leader of the Free World.

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We have, through our elected leaders, declared in numerous ways that, instead of leading the world, we will now intentionally withdraw from it. We have declared that, for the first time in modern history, we now see America’s interests in isolationist terms.

We wish no longer to be respectful to  our fellow North Americans to the north and south, nor do we wish to stand as allies with our philosophical and blood kin in Europe, as we have done since the creation of NATO in the mid 20th century.

Instead, we stand alone, and have declared that the world will just have to get used to the idea that Americans are no longer here to help anyone but ourselves. Without American leadership, the world will see the ascension of China in Asia and Russia in much of Europe. That process has already begun and we have largely stood by and watched, and in some instances, facilitated it.

But while isolationism, in and of itself, may be horribly short-sighted in a world as integrated as ours, it does not necessarily impute a lack of morality. Other actions do.

Most of us would agree that immigration issues are complex and need to be addressed, but the splitting up and mass incarceration of families attempting to gain asylum at our southern border has sickened a majority of Americans. Using children, some of them nursing infants, as pawns in an international game of diplomatic bluster or, even worse, as a means of fueling the hatred of American voters for one another in advance of upcoming elections, is reprehensible at best.

Our nation’s rejection of the scientific understanding of global warming may have an even more disastrous impact on the future than our Machiavellian use of refugee children. The world is getting hotter and it’s happening with extraordinary speed, the change fueled in large part by the industrialized world. Most advanced countries recognize the problem and are working to solve it. We do not. We have totally abrogated a leadership or even participatory role in addressing it.

Our nation, which prided itself in having the world’s strongest middle class, has repeatedly changed our progressive tax code to favor the wealthy, thus accelerating through governmental policy the decline of that middle class and the the rise of a wealthy elite that consists of a tiny percentage of the population.

Most tragically of all, we have discarded civility from our national conversation. There is ample room for agreement and disagreement in all the areas of public policy that are so in need of discussion today, including all those mentioned here, and there was a time when Americans did look for common ground. That’s the whole point of a republic. But it seems that a search for common ground today is a sign of weakness rather than strength. We prefer lines in the sand to lines of communication.

That’s why today we have chosen to quote a far more ancient source than the Declaration on this, our Independence Day. As a core value of Christian doctrine or, if you prefer, simply ancient philosophy, the Golden Rule, it seems to us, must be our guide before we can even begin to fully appreciate our beloved Declaration.

So, on this, the Fourth of July 2018, we suggest that America take to heart: “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.”