Column – America250 is chance for national healing
Published 5:02 pm Tuesday, March 7, 2023
We are rapidly approaching the 250th anniversary of 1776, the year our American ancestors declared ourselves to be an independent nation, forever free of the constraints of colonialism.
For those of us who recall the U.S. Bicentennial — the 200th anniversary — it’s a bit hard to believe that a half-century has now all but passed and that we’re talking about a similar national celebration all over again.
A reminder of that approaching anniversary came in a recent memo announcing that Isle of Wight County, along with every other local government in Virginia, has been asked by the state to begin planning how it will celebrate, in 2026, the year of the 250th. It may seem early, but it will take time to shape national, state and local celebratory events, so a three-year head start is quite reasonable.
Major anniversaries are important for a number of reasons, not the least being that they provide an opportunity for reflection on what is important — and what isn’t. Whether it’s a married couple celebrating their 50th, a company celebrating its 100th or the world’s oldest republic celebrating its 250th, the passage of such a milestone should be undertaken deliberately and with mature, serious goals in mind.
The 1976 Bicentennial came during a time of turmoil, of soaring energy prices, of high inflation, of a realization — following Vietnam — that the U.S. must constantly reevaluate its leadership role in the world.
That sounds all too similar to the world today, except for one huge difference. Though Americans were deeply divided in their views of the world and America’s role in it in 1976, the country wasn’t nearly as divided as it is today, nor were its divisions expressed in ways as dangerous as today’s.
While political leaders in 1976 offered widely differing views of the direction they would like to take the nation, none of them were talking about actually dissolving the union. Today, more than one elected representative has actually questioned whether “red” states and “blue” states should separate, thus forever balkanizing the United States, and ending what Ronald Reagan described as the world’s “shining city upon a hill.”
No elected leader from a half-century ago that I’m familiar with was expressing the view that authoritarianism, as practiced in Russia and China, might actually be a better alternative to our republic. Today, that sentiment isn’t difficult to find.
In such an environment, the most important question for the nation’s 250th anniversary may be whether we are capable of coming together to celebrate our common roots as Americans or even wish to do so. Can we, in good faith, join hands one more time, as neither conservatives nor liberals, but simply as Americans, bound by a mutual desire to live free and to see other nations in a position to do the same?
One of Virginia’s most popular 20th century residents, the late John Warner, was secretary of the Navy when President Gerald Ford tapped him to oversee the 1976 Bicentennial celebration. Warner, ever the bipartisan optimist, pulled the nation together to celebrate what most of us certainly could agree were American values. There was little philosophical depth to the celebration, but the effort was wildly popular, and the celebration was a smashing success.
America250 is the nonprofit commission responsible for the upcoming celebration. Joseph C. Daniels has been named by that group’s board to head the effort. Daniels was CEO of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum and later the president of the National Medal of Honor Museum.
While he doesn’t have the name recognition that helped Warner (being married to Elizabeth Taylor at the time didn’t hurt Warner, of course), Daniels seems to have the organizational skills the job demands. He’ll need those skills and a lot more.
This nation needs a unifying force now more than ever, and where better to seek it than in celebration of our birth? Americans should be unanimous in hoping that America250 is a huge success.
John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.