Someone far more clever than me once described the Declaration of Independence as “the world’s most famous break-up letter.”
Independence Day exists because American colonists, fed up with the British Crown’s greed and disrespect, were convinced they could do bad all by themselves, so it was inevitable.
In essence, the letter reads: “Dear George: Drop dead.”
Even so, it wasn’t easy. We tend to think the Declaration was printed and signed, someone lit fireworks and that was that.
Apart from the sure threat of being hanged for treason, the Founders also bickered and argued among themselves about what kind of country they wanted.
Some called for George Washington to serve as king. He didn’t even want to be president. Others laid bare their hypocrisy when they demanded freedom from the British, while compromising on slavery. It would come back around to bite, inflicting wounds unhealed to this day.
In some ways, the question of our national identity remains unanswered — and therein lies our genius. We Americans can pivot and reinvent ourselves better than anyone on Earth. Though our core tenets remain, we are not remotely the same country we were in 1776, or even 1976.
What would they think?
We can only guess what the Founders might think of the America of 2018, and how we’ve evolved from being a country in which only white men with land could vote to one in which practically anyone can be elected president — and practically anyone has.
They would be astonished that a nation that couldn’t pull the trigger on slavery elected a black man president. Twice. They would not be at all shocked, however, that a woman has not been elected president because it never would occur to them that such a thing was possible.
So far, they appear to be right.
They’d likely be thrilled at their own brilliance in devising a system that has withstood the foolishness and abuses of their descendants, all while maintaining its central purpose: self-governance and the preservation of individual rights.
We have to suppose that some of them might be surprised we’re still here, though it sometimes feels as if we, too, are breaking up.
A new Gallup Poll finds that for the first time in years, less than half of us describe ourselves as “extremely proud” to be American. Just 47 percent of those polled identified themselves as such, down from 70 percent in 2004.
Our “common garment of destiny,” as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. described it, is at risk of unraveling; its threads being stressed by anger and resentment; the fabric being soiled and torn asunder by fear and demagoguery.
Among extremists and fear-mongers, there always has been talk of secession and even a second civil war. It all sounds silly on its face, but we know what happens to a house that remains divided.
We’ve been so good at democracy for so long, we’ve taken for granted it never will come undone. That a foreign adversary unleashed an army wielding laptops and false ads in 2016, and made the kind of inroads that no bombs ever could, should give us all nightmares. It exposed our arrogance in thinking that no one would dare, and our failure to learn the lessons of Sept. 11, when a small group was able to wield online propaganda like a sword and inflict grievous harm.
Can we keep it together? The question has been posed before, with the answer written in the blood of more than 600,000 lives lost to preserve it between 1861 and 1865, and just as many in its defense during World War II.
Charita M. Goshay is a columnist for More Content Now, a service of Gatehouse Media. Views do not necessarily reflect those of the Lake Sun.