“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
— The 56 signatories of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
Rereading our country’s famous founding document, the Declaration of Independence, I’m struck by how it really is a statement of unity.
It begins with the words “The unanimous declaration” and refers to “one people.” The document is written in the collective voice, saying “we” and “our” in laying out the argument for independence from Great Britain.
The document concludes as representatives of all 13 colonies sign their names in full knowledge that they were publicly committing treason against the Crown and faced dire consequences.
As Ben Franklin supposedly said after signing the declaration on behalf of Pennsylvania, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
And yet on this 244th American Independence Day, so many of us feel anger and contempt against our fellow countrymen, rather than unity.
Too many of us view political opponents as enemies. Rather than engage and listen to learn, we shout others down with disdain and contempt. We look for reasons to criticize, rather than opportunities to understand.
Each side views itself as virtuous and the other side as villainous.
A couple of examples show it on both sides of our political divide.
Friends of mine who conceal carry pistols are proud that they are prepared to defend themselves and those around them in the event of a violent incident. And indeed, there are stories from across the nation of responsible, armed people being key “first responders” during mass shooting incidents. My conceal carry friends go about their days with pride that they are a “good guy with a gun,” even though — especially though — the people around them don’t know it.
I see a similar feeling of satisfaction in people who are wearing masks these days.
They know that by wearing a face covering they are much less likely to spread the novel coronavirus if they are infected but aren’t showing symptoms. They are willing to endure the inconvenience and discomfort of wearing masks to help the greater good, and they feel justifiable pride in that.
So two groups who tend to see the world differently both feel that they are the virtuous ones, looking after the vulnerable or ill-prepared on the other side. Unfortunately, each side often fails to see that the other side might just have a key insight and deeper understanding of our shared reality.
What if we listened and learned from each other?
Our politics right now, supercharged by the angry digital shouting of social media, are far from the mutual respect and “sacred honor” that gave birth to our nation.
From the right, I hear some folks dismissing half of the nation as “Demon-crats.” And from the left, I hear some people saying that anyone who voted for Donald Trump is an irredeemable racist. Both sentiments are terribly, tragically wrong.
But even more importantly than that, they simply don’t work from a political perspective.
In America, we can never literally destroy our political opponents, and I hope it goes without saying we should never point our nation in that direction. We have to figure out how to work with each other. It’s the endless challenge in our democratic republic.
I wish our nation would return to a respect and appreciation for our countrymen and women whose lives and perspectives are different than ours.
In rural America, we understand that it is our forests, our mines, our get-er-done spirit, that is a crucial engine for our nation’s economy. We believe our love for traditional life and faith is an important reservoir for our nation’s spiritual health. Many of us growing up with generations of our families together, deeply connected to the land and natural resources, feel that this is a cornerstone for what it means to be truly American.
But we should remember that the cities of America power the researchers who discover the cures for diseases and invent the technologies which brighten our future. The vibrant economies of cities produce a surplus of tax money that flows to pay for rural services. The dynamic melting pot of beliefs and cultures in cities also has a longstanding claim to be an essential part of what it means to be American.
What if we respected that different parts of America are important? What if all sides viewed those we don’t understand with respect and forbearance?
What if rural folks were respected by their urban cousins, and what if those of us in the country had the same respect for city folk?
That sounds like a tall order these divided times, but let’s remember that America’s founders were also divided. The needs of those in Rhode Island and Georgia were divergent then as they are now. But they came together and created a new “we” — the newly declared United States. They faced hanging, or worse.
But, united in the belief that together we are stronger, our founders persevered and created a new kind of nation that this world had never seen before.
Many of those same founders, a dozen years later, wrote the Constitution that still governs our land. A woman then asked Franklin what kind of nation they had.
“A republic, if you can keep it,” he replied.
That job has fallen to us, and we can only do it together.
Brian Mittge will be celebrating our independence and interdependence in rural Chehalis. Contact him at email@example.com.