July 4th in Peachtree City is particularly memorable for first-timers, with flag images adorning everything from hats, shirts, cups, or straws, and covering or hanging from any imaginable surface on golf carts, gathered by the thousand it seems for the parade, with scenes that would make Norman Rockwell proud.
After the flag-waving frenzy of the parade are BBQs, afternoon naps, then evening golf cart traffic jams on paths through the woods, each packed with adults and kids on their way to find a spot on the golf course fairway well before fireworks where the scene of an ocean of golf cart roofs and spread blankets and kids running crazy at play has a flavor uniquely Peachtree City.
It’s good to be American on July 4th, when passions about the birth of our country run universally high. But it’s a little like a short visit to grandma’s house, since it is just a one-day respite, with America returning to sleep the very next day, still blissfully unaware — or uncaring — that our founding Constitutional principles are continually under assault and have already been seriously eroded.
How much do citizens really know about what was gained after our founding fathers signed their own death warrant when they affixed their name to the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, an act of treason according to Britain’s King George III?
The rag-tag 13 American colonies were anything but unified, and having borne innumerable insults to their good citizenry by the king, they revolted against the most powerful military force in the western world in a divisive and bloody war, and won. But what did they win, and what was their purpose?
Individual liberty. The sacred protection of private property. Free speech. Free exercise of religion. The rule of law. Rights centered on the individual with severe limits on government. Federalism, wherein states delegated only specifically enumerated rights to the federal government, thereby limiting the power of the fed. To have a vote on our own taxation. And as embodied in the Declaration, individual rights that come from God, not dependent on any king or government.
Have we kept faith with our founders, and the hard-fought gains in the Constitution they handed down to us? Unfortunately the answer is a resounding NO. We have been looking the other way while our Constitution crumbles.
What have we done in our schools to maintain the strength of commitment to America? Since the early 1970s, for two going on three generations we have failed to teach our kids civics, the history of how our system of government was born, the struggles and arguments involved, the balance of power designed to resist self-serving human nature, the educated citizens required to maintain our system, the individual restraint that is the duty of citizens and why capitalism works by capturing the motivation of self-benefit.
Our kids have learned much in school about self-esteem, moral relativism, multiculturalism and other things that almost seem designed to overcome commitment to America. American History is given a quick once-over in high school, and European history is generally not taught, considered to be too western-centric even though it is the root of our civilization.
Our schools do teach our kids the flaws and failings of our country, encouraging them to think the founders’ personal imperfections, and that they would not meet today’s standards of behavior and sensitivity, mean their remarkable accomplishments must be discounted or ignored.
They are taught the moral relativism that all systems and cultures are equally valid. They learn to discourage too much focus on America’s virtues as undue favoritism, xenophobia and insensitivity to the anti-American sentiments of other countries and even ungrateful immigrants among us.
Just a few years ago the American political spectrum was united behind the Judeo-Christian orthodoxy that marriage is between one man and one woman. As a conservative I was ahead of my time as an advocate for gay marriage since I thought it was wrong of us to stand in their way, my personal opinion of that lifestyle notwithstanding. But widespread change came quickly, and the brushfire of support for the entire LGBT agenda is making heroes of unnatural cases like Bruce Jenner – I will call him Caitlyn as soon as his doctors confirm his chromosomes have “transitioned” from YX to XX. At the same time, individuals and churches adhering to hundreds of years of traditional views of marriage are now pilloried, and punished when opponents can find a way.
Now we will teach elementary school kids the blessings of the LGBT agenda, and that gender is something determined by how you feel, matters evidently far more important than civics.
We have tossed to the rubbish heap the thoroughly American principle of individualism. Instead, our kids now learn the more sensitive collectivism and multiculturalism, without any remains of notions that immigrants should learn English and assimilate.
We have rendered invalid the phrase “e pluribus unum,” meaning “out of many, one,” inscribed on our coins and included in the original Great Seal of the United States, an acknowledgement of America’s “melting pot” where immigrants come together as one people.
No more. That would be racist today, since every ethnic or national or racial group competes for their status as victims deserving benefits and compensation.
Our betters in the news media have appointed themselves leaders of public opinion, a danger since they seem to have little more than a passing familiarity with the Constitution, and no devotion to it, since they kid themselves they have no nationality.
Like sirens of Greek mythology they draw in younger Americans to think of the Constitution as a marginally relevant anachronism, presenting issues of how we govern ourselves in a “citizens of the world” wrapper.
If we have not taught our young the blessings of America despite our flaws, and that our system requires the strong defense of every generation, how can we expect them to adhere to constitutional principles when beckoned by worldwide popular trends?
Free speech has given way to political correctness that punishes, sometimes severely, those who do not conform. Religious freedom has been perverted to mean what the state wants it to mean.
Courts interfere with routine presidential duties. Presidents ignore the Constitutional duty to enforce the nation’s laws. Presidents encroach on the province of Congress with over-reaching executive orders. Executive departments, like the EPA, encroach on the province of Congress with new regulations with sweeping impact that should come from law. Congress uses the tiny fig leaf of the Commerce Clause as cover for piles of laws reaching into every corner of our lives, thereby violating the Constitution’s 10th Amendment clarification of federalism.
New activists are revising U.S. history, removing monuments of people from eras past who don’t meet today’s popular standards, much like the Soviets used to purge all evidence of a prior leader that had disappeared.
Some revisionists hide behind the aegis of racism as Confederate history is erased. Some historical revision is emerging in universities where past leaders, like Thomas Jefferson, now bring disapproval from the new intellectual elite.
We are reaping what we have sown with citizens, uneducated in constitutional principles, refusing to accept the outcome of an election, encouraging violence and conducting themselves in politically vulgar fashion, with not even a whiff of the self-control and restraint the Constitution requires of the citizenry.
All of that is OK, it seems, to generations of Americans who never learned the Constitution is our foundation, our bedrock. They are content so long as continually expanding government elevates their collective care and feeding, and so long as they are continually entertained by their cell phone, electronic games and other screen-based passive distractions from anything approaching responsibility.
Nearly a year away, next July 4th we will once again awaken to engage in fits of flag-waving in a frenzy of patriotism a mile wide and a quarter-inch deep. Looking into the future, I can’t help thinking how little Americans know, how little they are learning about their own Constitution.
I can’t help thinking how the ignorant are attracted by momentary popular trends rather than firmly standing by solid principles, and I wonder about two possible answers to a very disturbing question.
How did the Constitution die?
Will the answer be, “To a whimper of apathy,” or “To thunderous applause?”
[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen.]