The United States was founded on the notion that all men are created equal and have some unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The part about the pursuit of happiness is a particularly American idea. It’s something we should be proud of.
We’ve made mistakes. We’ve gone off in the wrong direction. Sometimes we’ve been on the wrong side of history. Sometimes it’s taken us a long time to figure things out. But, eventually, we recognized that the notions of being created equal and having unalienable rights applied to everybody, not just to men, not just to people who were free, not just to people who owned land, not just to people who looked like the people in the majority, sounded like the people in the majority, went to the same churches as the people in the majority, and had the same prejudices and biases as the people in the majority.
We’ve come a long way. But it’s easy to forget where we came from and how we got here. And it’s easy to forget that we’re all in this together and that we still have a long way to go.
We hear a lot about our rights and very little about our duties and responsibilities. Some people want the right to own a bazooka and the right to use religion as a weapon against people who believe something else. And some people think they don’t have a duty to play by the rules, to help someone in need, or even to consider someone else’s point of view.
The people who believe there’s a fixed amount of freedom have gained the upper hand. They seem to think that freedom is a zero-sum game and that someone’s gains cause someone else’s losses, that there isn’t enough freedom to go around, and that the best way to hold on to yours is to make sure no one else gets any.
When we’re at our best, Americans argue not about what we believe and what we stand for but about how we’ll go about making things better for everyone. There are some people we can discriminate against, people we can marginalize, people we can take advantage of. And when we’re at our worst we choose leaders who try to institutionalize those feelings.
People of good will are speaking up now, not just for their own interests, but for people whose voices are being ignored. They’re holding our new leaders accountable for their words and actions.
The victory for misogyny, xenophobia, racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination, and general incivility and meanness of spirit may seem complete, but the victory is only temporary. This is the last hurrah for those people. Their ideas, like a geocentric view of the universe, mesmerism, phrenology, and trickle-down economics, will end up in the garbage dump of history.
The times, as Bob Dylan said, they are a-changin’.
The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column.