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The Idea of America

What does it mean to be an American? For most nations, if not all, in this world the uniting piece that makes them a nation is a shared ethnic, racial or tribal heritage. That is not the case in America. One can originate from any other country in the world, join a multitude of others from differing backgrounds and all be considered American. What is it that binds us together and makes us a nation? Unlike any other nation, America is bound together by an idea or a principle if you will. An idea and a experiment in self governance laid out in the Declaration of Independence and protected by the Constitution.

"All men are created equal and 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."

While this unique form of government that was established by the Founders has produced the greatest nation in the world, it is also fragile in many ways due to human nature. The founders knew this and created a wonderful set of checks and balances in an effort to control the power of the government and protect the people. However, what they couldn't do was control the nature of the people. They knew what would happen to this form of government should the people not take seriously their duty to God, Family and Country. John Adams said it best when he said, " Our Constitution is only for a moral and religious people, It is wholly inadequate to the Government of any other." For the people and the government they institute to respect the fact that there are God given rights, they have to believe in God. Without the belief in God, or even Creation for that matter, then rights are perceived as given by the government who then has just as much authority to take them away. For the people to self govern through the representative form of government established by the Constitution, morality and personal responsibility had to be the guiding principle by which representatives of the people and the laws they established were judged. Sadly, today many vote based on who or what will provide them with the most for them with no thought to the morality of it or consequence it may cause others. Are we a "moral and religious" people anymore? Is the Constitution wholly inadequate to govern us as we stand today and is the idea of America still what binds us together as a nation? I think these are fair questions to ask.
First, I do not think that America is a "moral and religious" nation anymore, however, it does still have many "moral and religious" people that could make it so again.
Second, the Constitution is wholly inadequate to govern us as we stand today. This may seem like a shocking statement coming from someone who promotes Constitutional education. However, if you consider how far we have deviated from the original intent of the Constitution and what it allows you would have to admit we aren't being governed by the principles of the Constitution now and should we immediately change back to those principles it would be such a shock to the system it would cause chaos. I do, however, believe that we can return to the Constitution and those guiding principles through an understanding of what it means and passing on those values to our children to start the process now and continue it through the next generation to return it over time to that original purpose and intent.
Third, I do think that we are still bound together by an idea, but those bindings are fraying. We are a nation of immigrants. Those people however came here prescribing to that idea and joining with others in the common pursuit. They learned a common language, they put aside many of their customs and persevered together and built the greatest nation on earth because they understood that even among their many differences they were bound together by this idea that provided freedom, equality and defined them as a people. The problem is now we allow people to become citizens without any sort of expectation of becoming part of this. Frankly we are allowing our children to become citizens with the same lack of expectation and education to this principle. Without the expectation of the adherence to the responsibility of being a citizen and the education as to what that means we lose the basis of what a Constitutional Republic like ours needs to operate effectively and when you have lost sight of, or never understood in the first place, the idea that binds us as a nation you resort to tribalism. Defining is done by gender, race, political affiliation or whatever commonality people can find and you end up in a state of unsustainable, by Constitutional standards, conflict.
I believe the only way to fix it is a broad change in the hearts and minds of the American people. A restoring of the principles set forth in the founding, a faith in God and a selfless service to your fellow man.