WE’VE SPENT a lot of time since November festering in our anger and resentment, wallowing in contempt and aggrievement, seeking out new ways to take offense — and to give offense. We’re convinced that we are a nation divided as never before, irreconcilable in our differences.
Actually, our anger and resentment have been festering for years, notching up a bit more on one side or the other after each election. But our ADD-attention spans have rendered us incapable of recalling how we felt when the situation was reversed, eight years ago, or 16 or … ever. And with instantaneous outrage delivered to our smartphones, the cycle of division is only accelerating.
On the left, we are sure that the election of Donald Trump marked the coming of the apocalypse. On the right, we are enraged by the left’s arrogant refusal to accept its defeat. We exacerbate the distrust and disgust by walling ourselves into our irreconcilable ideological camps, refusing to listen to or learn from one another. We even allow our political differences to poison our personal relationships, as neighbor fumes against neighbor, co-worker against co-worker, friend against friend, parishioner against parishioner, son against mother, wife against husband.
Tensions grow as the polite among us try to avoid discussing anything that could be construed as touching even tangentially on matters of state, while the less than polite frolic in the sad reality that what used to be called not being a jerk is now derisively dismissed as being “politically correct.”
And now we’re supposed to celebrate our common anniversary? As if we still had anything in common? Seriously?
Well, yes, seriously.
Christians of a certain sort constantly remind ourselves, sometimes through clenched teeth, that those things that unite us are exponentially more important than those things that divide us. It’s time for Americans of all faiths, and of no faith, to do likewise.
Last week, I re-read the Declaration of Independence. You might want to try that if you haven’t done it lately. You might want to think about the origins of the greatest nation on earth. You might want to marvel at how our Founding Fathers set a whole new standard for the world when they declared their independence from England and — here’s the truly revolutionary part — went on to create a constitutional republic based on the ideals of self-rule and liberty and justice for all.
You might want to take a moment to rejoice in the unparalleled success of this remarkable experiment in equality-based self-governance.
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.
There was absolutely nothing self-evident about that declaration when Thomas Jefferson put quill to paper.
A right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? All men created equal?
Even leaving aside the fact that in 1776, “men” was not a synonym for “people,” or that it was understood that “men” were white, this still was an astonishing thing to say. In a world ruled by monarchs, who were decidedly not equal to commoners.
And yet it was the central premise — self-evident — in our nation’s founding document.
This is our common heritage. This is who we are. This is what we believe.
All men — and 241 years later all men and women, of all races — are created equal, with a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Inherent in these radical proclamations is our belief in the primacy of the individual. It is our rejection of highly structured societies based on hereditary hierarchies, from the British monarchy to the Indian caste system — all anathema to Americans of all social classes and political preferences.
We believe that all individuals should have the opportunity to make the best of themselves, regardless of societal preconceptions about what we can — or cannot — accomplish. We are competitive and optimistic and, in our daily lives if not in our politics, pragmatic. We value our privacy (less in the Facebook age, but still more than in many societies) and our independence.
(For South Carolina, independence is very nearly a state religion: No matter how sensible some course of action might be, we resist it if we believe someone is trying to force it on us.)
Even as some conclude that government deck-stacking is making it impossible, we remain united by a general belief in the American Dream — that anyone who works hard enough can get ahead. That anyone can grow up to be president.
We believe — in theory if not in practice — that all people have the right to say what they want to say, to think what they want to think, to believe what they want to believe, or not believe.
Regardless of our differences, despite emerging doubts and questions, notwithstanding cynicism about whether “those” people actually embrace it, this unites us: a set of shared values that, while including some that can be found in other cultures, meld seamlessly into a uniquely American belief system.
We are all Americans, and that which unites us is exponentially more important than that which divides us.
Happy Independence Day.
Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at email@example.com or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.