James Magazine Mar Apr 2020 - Page 49



n just six years the United States of America
will commemorate its 250th anniversary. On July
4, 2026 the document written by Mr. Jefferson in
which he coined the immortal phrase “all men are created
equal” will be two and one half centuries old.
It will be a time of grand celebrations, as it should be.
The United States is now the longest surviving republic
with a written constitution in the history of the world.
The revolution launched with the Declaration of 1776 set
the world on fire and spread the flames of liberty far
beyond the shores of North America. “All men are created
equal” has been a rallying cry and an inspiration for
oppressed people everywhere.
But even as we celebrate, I strongly suspect there will
be a lot of soul searching, too.
Given the dramatic demographic, economic, and
social changes we are currently experiencing— and
which by then will be even more pronounced— the central question of our 250th anniversary will no doubt be
twofold: “Who is an American?” and “What do we still
stand for?” Are we still that nation founded 250 years ago
upon the principles embodied in the Declaration of
Independence, a country made up of diverse people
drawn irresistibly from the four corners of the world by
economic opportunity and religious and political liberty,
and bound to each other by the ideals of freedom and
equality for all? Or has the “land of the free and the home
of the brave” given into its fears and morphed into something else, something unrecognizable even to ourselves?
These are not new questions. They have been asked
by nearly every generation, especially those which have
struggled with dramatic change. Wars, immigration,
divisive politics, and economic crisis have always made
many Americans fear the country was not only moving
in the wrong direction, but perhaps on the road to ultimate destruction.
Fortunately, so far those fears have proved unfounded.
History demonstrates that we can survive difficult wars
and challenging leadership; we can absorb and assimilate
new comers; the economy does rebound. Despite all that
has been thrown at us over nearly 250 turbulent years,
the United States and its Constitution have endured.
Nevertheless, the question of national identity
seems more pressing today than ever. Lacking an external enemy that poses an existential threat to the nation
(such as Nazi Germany or worldwide Communism) we
no longer have a common foe against which to fight.
Across the globe, democracy has become the norm,
rather than the exception, and our unique role in the
world as “the shining city upon a hill” seems diminished. Compounding all this are dramatic political
realignments and economic dislocation produced by the
internet and social media, globalization, terrorism, and
the so-called “browning of America.” Many wonder if
we no longer stand as the “last best hope of earth,” to
use Lincoln’s words. As a consequence we seem to
have lost our way and have turned on each other with a
fierce combativeness we once reserved only for our
common international opponents. continued on page 50

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