On July 4, 1852 the good people of Rochester, NY invited abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass to deliver the speech of the day. He spoke to the white audience of "YOUR independence…"
— Laurie Garrett (@Laurie_Garrett) July 3, 2022
To Lyndon Johnson and MLK, “patriotism was a practical task,” writes Jedediah Britton-Purdy. “To appreciate and preserve what is good, work to change what is bad, and remember that part of what is good in a country is that citizens can change.” https://t.co/usOkb78DV0
— New York Times Opinion (@nytopinion) July 1, 2022
… We want to make the world better by our lights, and to do that we need a stronger democracy. Patriotism in the right spirit fosters the civic trust and solidarity that democracy needs.
Patriotism shouldn’t be an excuse for glossing over failures and crimes — just the opposite. It adds responsibilities, even sorrows, to our lives. But it also fosters affection and, yes, pride.
The patriotism we need is the patriotism of July 5, which used to be a rallying day for abolitionists, particularly in New York State. Before the Civil War, July 5 was a rejoinder to the hypocrisy of Independence Day, which trumpeted liberty in a country full of race slavery. It was also, for many abolitionists, a day to continue the founding work of Emancipation, to build on and extend a flawed but radical inheritance…
In a country where “Emancipation is a proclamation and not a fact,” Johnson warned, if inequality was not addressed, America would “have failed as a people and as a nation.” The country could “gain the whole world and lose his own soul,” he said, paraphrasing the Book of Mark. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., too, called the principles of the American founding “a promissory note” that had come due, and urged the country to “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.”
This version of patriotism links criticism of our country’s failings with a commitment to changing them. It cleaves to principles of freedom and equality because they are right, and also because they are ours, they are us. It addresses America’s worst aspects, not as enemies to be eliminated (as in our many domestic “wars” on this or that) but as we would approach a friend or family member who had lost their way. In this spirit, even the harshest reproach, the most relentless list of wrongs, comes with a commitment to repair and heal, to build a more just and decent country. It also entails a practical faith: As long as change might be possible, we owe it to one another to try.
Opinion by Max Boot: If we want to remain a democracy, we must significantly reform our political system. https://t.co/f16qb0RR3t
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) July 4, 2022
… For all their blind spots, the Founders created a mechanism whereby the original imperfections of the Constitution could be fixed over time. Two mechanisms, actually.
First, the constitutional amendment process. This enabled a “new birth of freedom” after the Civil War, with amendments to abolish slavery and grant civil rights to African Americans, and again after World War I, with an amendment giving women the vote.
Second, the Founders created a Supreme Court that had the ultimate power to interpret — or reinterpret — the often-opaque articles of the Constitution. This allowed the court of the 1930s, after initial resistance, to ratify the creation of a rudimentary welfare state, and the court of the 1950s and 1960s to strike down school segregation and expand rights of privacy that are now under attack.
The United States of America would not have survived this long if we had not done so much to modify the original Constitution and the way it was interpreted in the republic’s early days. In particular, we have greatly scaled back the pernicious doctrine of “state’s rights” that too often has been a cover for the supremacy of a few powerful white men. As urged by future vice president Hubert Humphrey at the 1948 Democratic convention, we finally marched in the 1960s “out of the shadow of states’ rights” and “into the bright sunshine of human rights.” Unfortunately, we are now walking back into the darkness. Because of a benighted Supreme Court, 40 million women are about to lose their reproductive freedom.
Most of the Founders knew better than to try to shackle their progeny to their own worldview. Thomas Jefferson rejected the tendency to “look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched.” He argued “that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.”…
…[T]here are other steps we can take, even without amending the Constitution, to make our political system more democratic and representative. We should, for example, expand the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court. They reached their present size in 1912 and 1869, respectively, when the country was far smaller. (The U.S. population has tripled in the past century.) We should also end the Senate filibuster, whose use has dramatically expanded in recent years, creating a de facto supermajority requirement that gives a small minority of the population a veto over all legislation.
Instead of acrimoniously and endlessly debating whether the Founders were good or bad, let’s focus on improving the system they created so that it better serves Americans in the 21st century. As Jefferson knew, “institutions must advance” along with society.