Have you ever considered how nations fail? Are they destroyed by cataclysmic disaster or do they fail from small wounds quietly inflicted from within? I believe great nations are similar to mighty trees and suffer similar fates. Think about the American elm tree. Reaching over 100 feet in height, with a trunk up to four feet in diameter they were once one of the most dominate trees in the country. They were homes for nesting birds, woodpeckers, squirrels and others. Over the past 50 years they have been ravaged. Not from over deforestation, but by Dutch elm disease and the bark beetles that carry the fungus from the sick to healthy trees.
Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome all reflect the ebb and flow of a nation-state. In modern times we see Spain, France, Prussia, England, and the Austrian Empire reflect this truth. They rise with purpose only to slowly decline from a breakdown of its core strengths until some small insignificant outside force eventually topples it over. Without the internal blight… would the nation remain strong and capable of withstanding those outside forces?
I watched a movie that has given me reason to consider the lesson of the elm as it applies to me, and our nation. This movie, its obvious political message, and the nature of its portrayal recognized and understood for what they are – I still find the foundation of its premise compelling. There is a growing movement in this country to attack the founding principles of this nation, in the name of a variety of causes, but most generally disguised as some form of sensitivity or right.
Let’s start with the most basic of these attacks. There is an idea that some religions must be tolerated, but others can be attacked. We see this in the movement by those who are opposed to the Christians right to recognize Christmas as a celebration within our communities. As if the fact that since our independence we have been a Judeo-Christian nation is somehow an intolerable wrong that must be not only corrected, but erased from our memories. We cannot tolerate the recognition of Christmas as the birth of Christ by public display and acknowledgement. Schools must shelter children from the discussion of religion and God because atheist parents are offended and file civil actions. Our courts have expanded civil code and the premise of the constitution in the name of civil liberty to allow this to happen. Administrators strive to avoid conflict and allow the concerns of the few to override the value to the many. They abandon the ideal of education, to expand the mind of the young, and choose instead to train our young not to think independently or question, just to conform with their peers.
When we talk about liberty and our rights what do we mean? I see a lot of discussion about this from the left as liberals condemn the conservatives, but unfortunately it is generally in the form of some propaganda effort, and not intended as a serious debate on fundamental rights. On the other hand I see the conservatives referring back to the founding fathers as if they were demi-gods whose words must be strictly adhered to insure we remain steadfast and true to their intent. Hmmm, their intent, what was their intent?
When we gained our independence from King George, the men who risked all sought only the escape from a repressive government they had no voice in. Each was loyal to his community and viewed their colony as an independent entity. Each attempted to stand alone, but recognizing interdependence, they formed the Confederation of States. After 10 years of what must have been extremely frustrating economic and political turmoil these leaders again came together in a constitutional convention to resolve the problems the confederation created.
We see in the writings of James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay the arguments for a stronger central government. The Federalist Papers outline the causes of failure of the Confederation and the importance of a central government, checked by the division of powers, to secure the nation, and provide a framework to the nation. The political leadership of the founding fathers became convinced that if this nation were to prosper there had to be a strong unifying force that could bring the various people to agreement. They knew, as was the fashion of the time, that rigorous debate and argument was inefficient in the short-term, but ultimately led to a stronger acceptance of the final agreement. The papers were intended to spur those debates in anticipation of the votes on the new Constitution.
So I come back to the question, what are our rights as citizens of these United States? This has been the subject of lengthy debate and is really at the heart of the great conflicts we see in government today. On the one side we have a group of people who believe passionately that whatever cause they believe in should be protected as a right by a strong and compelling central power that sides with them. On the other we have a group that believes a overwhelmingly strong central government will do more harm and they as individuals should be left to lead their lives as they want. Is this really any different than the positions our founding fathers were addressing?
We see in the Preamble of the Constitution the purpose our founder’s envisioned. To “…establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty.” Almost immediately after crafting the basic document they recognized a need to identify the rights of the citizen, and added what is known as the Bill of Rights as part of the original ratification. This forms the basic understanding of our rights, and supports my opinion that amendments to the Constitution should expand, not contract, the rights of its citizens.
Let’s start with the first amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Does the recognition of Christmas as a federal holiday violate the prohibitions of the first amendment? Is Christmas Constitutional? Clearly the argument was made that it does, but the amendment does not say the government can not recognize religion only it cannot write laws to establish or prohibit the free exercise there of. Activists have twisted these words, and willing judges have agreed, that recognition of the celebration of Christ’s birth is somehow in violation of this amendment and must be condemned. Yet the holiday remains for as the court has pointed out the term Christmas preceded the Constitution by a millennium, and even the atheists want every day off they can get away with.
How far will those who don’t know what freedom is go… as they labor under the false premise that a more powerful central government will protect them, or that litigating anything and everything that annoys them so that they feel some small victory is right? Call me a cynic but I see nothing but personal self-interest propelling those who encourage the societal warfare we see in today’s America.
When we condemn those who disagree with us, through humiliation, intimidation, or outright violence we weaken us as a nation, and by each small act we weaken our fundamental strength.
So as for me, I will continue with the ideal of Christmas and acknowledge it in my greetings.