Tomorrow, the Fourth of July, will be filled with a lot of traditional activities around here: a neighborhood parade, barbecue, probably a movie in the afternoon, and ice cream and a book in the early evening. A lovely day. I’m not really a parade kind of guy. It’s way too hot on the fourth of July for one, and this year will be a scorcher, as high summer came early to Houston this year, but I’ll go anyway to keep harmony within the family and sympathize with the poor souls sweating and smiling their way down Irvington Blvd.
If my math is correct, we come upon year 240 of the Grand Experiment this year–a pretty lengthy record of success for a country as committed as this one is to giving everybody the right to pursue happiness. Britain was not always so committed; neither were any of the other countries of Europe. And the countries of the Near and Far East never have been, at least until the twentieth century. Until Britain’s Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the turn toward Parliamentary rule instead of monarchcial rule, the whole history of Europe had been one petty squabble after another, in an endless chain. The pattern continued that way for a while, too, even after 1688 and 1776 and 1789; but the success of genuinely-representative government, combined with more or less civilized discourse and conduct among those elected leaders, contrasted sharply with the often-brutal dictatorships in the rest of the world. No one who has any knowledge of how the economies of Britain and Europe were built and sustained by the slave trade and, later, the drug trade, along the routes to and from the Far East during these years would ever argue that representative government and capitalism were perfect; yet the relative peace and prosperity brought to England and America during the past two and a half centuries, and the willingness to fight and die to correct the corruptions and injustices of the system were precisely the things Winston Churchill was thinking of when he said that “Democracy is the worst form of government in the world, except for all the others.”
None of us can claim perfection, but we have a system, and it works. Everybody has a voice in it. Everybody has opportunities to make our society better, to point it in the direction it ought to go. Those opportunities will exist fifty and a hundred years from now, too, and it is the flexibility and the inclusiveness of American society that makes me happy and proud to be a part of it. We can change things for the better without overthrowing the whole system, and everybody can have a say-so in the process. The changes are often slow, as our attempts to modify the right to own guns and to overturn a woman’s right to an abortion will illustrate. But sweeping change, change that alters the kinds of people we are, should be slow, because one of the immense benefits of 1776–a benefit we don’t talk about enough–is that the American Revolution made all of us a more thoughtful, deliberative people. A bunch of us may want to run off half-cocked and do some dang-fool thing to revolutionize the country instantly (we give evidence of that tendency every day); but, as a whole people, we don’t really behave that way. We weigh and consider; we think things through. And usually, in the end, the best judgment of which we are capable at the moment will prevail. That national trait, maybe more than any other, is why so many people the world over still want to come to these shores and live, because at the root of that deliberative trait is a sense of optimism that we can make good choices and do good things, and create a create a country wherein people may choose for themselves how they wish to live.
Our darker, cynical selves like to believe we are simply prisoners of rule by elites, or helpless, addicted consumers of this televised idea or that product on the supermarket shelf. But those propositions are not true. We choose to believe them under the same grant of choice the Revolution afforded us to be optimistic. I cannot say, as many often will at this time of year, that America’s best days are ahead of it; I generally think so, but I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that as long as we maintain the right and responsibility to choose the laws and lawmakers under whom we govern ourselves, and as long as we deliberate thoughtfully before doing anything we know is going to have national impact, we will find our way forward, somehow, and our people may well be happier and more prosperous in a generation or two than we are now.