"We want to make our children feel that the mere fact of being Americans makes them better off," Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, once stated. "This is not to blind us at all to our own shortcomings; we ought steadily to try to correct them; but we have absolutely no grounds to work on if we don't have a firm and ardent Americanism at the bottom of everything."
While many want to point at our country's shortcomings, of which there are many, it is important for us to believe in her regardless. Americans need to understand why our country is different, to correct and improve where we have shortcomings, and to provide for our future security.
Why are we different? Our Declaration of Independence, signed 242 years ago this coming week, provides a vastly different structure of government than other countries.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident," it states, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,"
The Declaration of Independence proclaims that life and liberty are the unalienable gifts of God -- natural rights -- which no person or government can rightfully take away. It affirms that the purpose of government is to protect these God-given rights, and that government is subservient to the people. The people, not the government, hold the power. Government derives its powers from the consent of the governed (the people). Our Declaration reduced the status of government from the master of people (as in English rule) to that of the servant of the people.
Our structure of government is different from other nations. That structure is our strength.
What shortcomings do we have and how can we improve? There are many ways, but they all require that we are able to have civil discourse. Civility is needed everywhere.
Today, our political arena is overwhelmed with incivility, with both sides holding contempt with the other, with the inability to recognize that those who might disagree with us are human, too, and are given the same rights from God.
A few examples: This past week, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen was harassed at a restaurant. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her family were asked to leave a restaurant before they could eat. We can and we must do better. While we should and must engage in civil debate, we cannot accept those who are intolerant of different ideas. We must learn how to disagree without hating one another.
Finally, how can we provide for our nation's future security?
A robust growing economy is the place to start. On June 18, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech at the Detroit Economic Club, clearly laying out the need for a strong domestic economy. "President Trump quintessentially understands that for us to achieve our foreign policy goals we need strength here at home... He knows that strength abroad is impossible without strength at home...we use American power, economic might, and influence as a tool of policy to help America achieve its interests and promote our values around the world...We build relationships that create jobs and sustain American businesses and spur economic growth here at home. We do our best to call out unfair economic behavior as well and break down barriers to market entry so that our companies have fair and reciprocal opportunities to sell into markets all around the world."
Like our government structure, our economic structure is different from other nations. "Capitalism and the dynamic nature of America is essential to economic success. And you can avoid that for a little while, but at the end of the day, the dynamism, the creativity, and the innovation that follow from that can only happen in a political environment that is like ours," Pompeo said, "with fairness and opportunity for every individual to become a success."
This week, while celebrating our independence as a country, set aside some time to contemplate why our country is different, to think about how to bring civility back into our political discussions and how we can use our dynamism, creativity and innovation to provide for our nation's future security.
While some might attempt to bind us by our nation's shortcomings, which we should work toward correcting, we should also remember "we have absolutely no grounds to work on," as Roosevelt warned "if we don't have a firm and ardent Americanism at the bottom of everything."