15 July, 2016
“Ideals are like stars: we will not succeed in touching them with our hands, but like the seafarers on the ocean desert of waters, we choose them as our guides, and following them, we reach our destiny.” Carl Schurz US (German-born) Civil War general & politician (edited for inclusive language)
Many people seeking office or professionally active in politics as operatives or enthusiastic, but unpaid, volunteers profess patriotism. They wear flag lapel pins; they stand before flags; they use rhetoric about American values and hallowed traditions. Often, whether candidates, operatives, or volunteers, such people are long on style and short on substance. Before granting acceptance of these professions of patriotism or feeling inspiration due to them, responsible citizens must ponder what constitutes authentic and laudable American patriotism.
While different people would offer different responses and some would even dispute that true patriotism is possible, consider these suggestions as you work out your own.
The essentials of authentic, commendable American patriotism must be grounded in fundamental documents directly impacting the formation and development of America as a geopolitical reality. Three documents fill this role more prominently and substantively than any others.
These are The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the United States, and The Gettysburg Address. Within these documents are fifteen precepts that summarize and convey the real American Essentials.
From The Declaration of Independence asserts the ideal: 1. of human equality, 2. of human rights, 3. of just governance by consent of the governed, and 4, of a mutual commitment to one another.
From The Constitution of the United States stipulates commitments to 1. an ever improving unity, 2. the establishment of justice. 3. peace among ourselves, 4. defense against foreign invasion, 5. shared prosperity and general well-being. 6. the benefits of liberty for all Americans, 7. the abolition of involuntary servitude except as punishment 8. Equal privileges and immunities for all citizens, 9. equal protection of all people by due process of law, 10. unimpaired and unimpeded ballot access for all citizens of age.
From The Gettysburg Address vows 1. renewed dedication and firm resolve to the survival and success of governance of the people, by the people, for the people. While these fifteen principles are not simple, nor are they incomprehensibly complex. Although their proclamation came at or near the origins of the nation, they are by no means fully realized. Too often, we honor them more in the breach than the observance. Nonetheless, no twenty-first-century American, whether prominent or obscure has any excuse. Our heritage has an explicit stipulation of what is right. We know what these statements mean. We know what they require of us. The only issue is: “Do we have the character to do what needs doing?”
A widely misattributed quote states: “America is good because she is great. When America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” No matter the identity of the originator of this thought, it is sound. Genuine greatness requires real goodness. America has never lived out the full meaning of its ideals as set forth here, but progress has happened though more slowly and more erratically than full fidelity to these ideals demands.
For all our shortfalls, stagnations, and backsliding, no genuinely patriotic American can tolerate any law, regulation, custom, practice, proposal, campaign, or candidate that flaunts and violates these fifteen statements. At our finest and best, we hold these truths in our minds and our hearts and strive to make them a reality in our culture and society. Under the pressure of time and circumstance, we too often get distracted and lose our focus. That is why we must not lose sight of this fifteen-star constellation. If we are to arrive at our preferred destination, it must be our guide on the roiling seas of 21st-century American politics.
What were once bold philosophic assertions, are now established scientific facts and widely accepted political precepts. The unity of humankind is indisputable, and racism is wholly untenable. A distinguished American took the lead in the effort to craft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These thirty specified and acknowledged human rights, in turn, give rise to stipulated and unenumerated civil rights. The purpose of any just government is to protect human and civil rights.
All truly patriotic Americans regardless of their situation or social station must firmly resolve to finish the work remains before us. No legitimate American political leader can suggest or command that America betrays its premises or reneges on its promises. People have lived, struggled, and died for each and all of these fifteen principles. Far too many have given their last full measure of devotion to ensure the realization of these fundamentals. And every one of us now living, owe a debt of honor which we must pay so that the deaths, the injuries, the efforts, the sacrifices, and the struggles have not been in vain. The preceding fifteen precepts must not be abandoned; they must not be honored in the breech. They must be avowed, advanced, and attained. No patriotic leader can announce or advocate that America and Americans abandon the quest to be what we as a people and a nation actually ought to be: not the last best hope of the earth, but as Washington hoped “ever among the foremost nations of justice and liberty” upon the earth.
Many may say this essay is overly idealistic, but I would counter with this from Robert F. Kennedy’s Day of Affirmation speech. In Cape Town, South Africa on 6 June 1966. Bobby warned of three dangers: Futility, was the first; timidity was the third, and expediency was the second, and it applies most directly here:
“The second danger is that of expediency: of those who say that hopes and beliefs must bend before immediate necessities. Of course, if we must act effectively we must deal with the world as it is. We must get things done. But … high aspirations and deep convictions are not incompatible with the most practical and efficient of programs — that there is no basic inconsistency between ideals and realistic possibilities, no separation between the deepest desires of the heart and the mind and the rational application of human effort to human problems. It is not realistic or hardheaded to solve problems and take action unguided by ultimate moral aims and values, although we all know some who claim that it is so. In my judgment, it is thoughtless folly. For it ignores the realities of human faith, of passion and of belief — forces ultimately more powerful than all of the calculations of our economists or our generals. Of course, adherence to standards, to idealism, to vision in the face of immediate dangers takes great courage and takes self-confidence. But we also know that only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
Therefore, let us not be dissuaded by the false realism of the expedient; let us not succumb to the enervation of futility, nor surrender to the monsters conjured by the timid. Let us have the courage of our convictions; let us stand up, speak out, and carry on the struggle to uphold and implement these patriotic American Essentials