Melanie L. Sturm: Are Americans still in charge of our lives?
July 4, 2015
Amid unending political horserace punditry — who's up, who's down in the wake of Supreme Court rulings, Congress' Trade Promotion votes, Iranian nuclear negotiations, and the racist Charleston massacre — let's Think Again about the most important concern: are the American people winning or losing?
Are "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" — the national promise Americans celebrate July 4th – secure in this year of the Magna Carta's 800th anniversary? That watershed moment in the annals of human liberty curbed a tyrannical monarch, like the American founding it helped inspire.
Initially an agrarian backwater in a socially stratified world, America unleashed boundless creativity and industriousness by asserting human equality, becoming history's greatest economic wonder. While Great Britain's well-being (real GDP per capita) increased 14-fold between 1800 and 2007, America's grew 32-fold.
Today, as Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Washington aristocracies prosper, Americans are suffering crisis levels of job insecurity, economic stagnation and poverty. Will immigrants who've left societies where one's start pre-determined one's end discover that social mobility isn't much better here?
With the Congressional Budget Office projecting Greek-proportions of U.S. debt within 25 years, and a nuclearized Iranian terrorist state looming, are we bequeathing our children lower living standards and a weaker and vulnerable America?
The author of our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, captured the dilemma: "The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history. Whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite."
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Echoing Jefferson in his recent Time commentary, former presidential candidate and Colorado senator Gary Hart lamented the erosion of America's founding purpose — the democratic self-governance of a free people.
"Our European ancestors came to these shores to escape social and political systems that were corrosive and corrupt. Two and a quarter centuries later, we are returning to those European practices," Hart argued, concluding, "We are in danger of becoming a different kind of nation, one our founders would not recognize and would deplore."
Considering the unaccountability of Washington's increasingly powerful and unelected ruling elite — from nine Supreme Court justices with lifetime appointments to the colossal administrative state — is government's power still citizen-driven?
Are Americans as free to control how we live, what we believe and where we dedicate our labor and its fruits, or must we slavishly defer to elites wielding uninhibited power?
Given calls to abolish the tax-exempt status of religious institutions whose definition of marriage now diverges from the Supreme Court's, will individual dissidents be similarly hounded, jeopardizing their careers and reputations?
If a female photographer can discriminate, choosing not to photo-shoot a bachelor party featuring a female stripper, can a Christian photographer decline to shoot a same-sex wedding?
Saved twice by the Supreme Court's judicial rewriting, will Obamacare deliver the affordable, patient-centered health care its supporters promised, or will skyrocketing costs and narrowing provider networks impede access, disproportionally hurting sick Americans?
Though an Obamacare and same-sex marriage supporter, Georgetown University law professor Jonathan Turley argued "there are valid concerns when the Court steps into an issue with such great political, social and religious divisions."
Moreover, in ignoring its constitutional duty to implement laws — writing them instead — the Court circumvents the political process our constitution's separation of powers was designed to facilitate, undermining the people's consent upon which government legitimacy depends.
Unlike the blindfolded Lady Justice on whose objectivity and impartiality our free society relies, the Court jeopardizes its integrity and imperils civil society when it operates more like a political institution than a legal one, concerned less with the rule of law and constitutional adherence than winning agendas.
Thankfully, in South Carolina — the state that moved first to secede from the Union in 1860 because it denied "all men are created equal" — we're witnessing the ordered liberty our founding ethic was expected to foster.
They're showing the world how to "combat hate-filled actions with love-filled actions," as Alana Simmons, the granddaughter of the murdered reverend Daniel Lee Simmons Sr. put it. In Charleston's diverse melting pot, prejudices are dissolving through exposure to disparate voices and moral suasion, as freedom of expression is respected.
Inspired by the magnanimity of grieving Emanuel AME Church families, Gov. Nikki Haley proclaimed "a moment of unity in our state, without ill will." Declaring no winner or loser in respecting those who wish to display the confederate battle flag on private property, Haley announced, "it's time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds."
The people of South Carolina are winning as they prove a righteous and thoughtful citizenry dedicated to society's safety and happiness, can indeed self-govern.
Think Again — as Americans look beyond fireworks this July 4th, may we see more than political horseraces, perceiving our nation's enduring notion that free and virtuous citizens — not ruling elites — are our fate's best masters.