I will readily admit to growing up in a conservative household. It was not an ideologically conservative household (even if my mother did have a thing for William F. Buckley).
It was conservatism born of experience, hard lessons and humility.
My parents saw and survived the Depression. My dad fought in the Second World War. His profession was money management. And they were both solid New England Yankees.
They valued self-reliance, responsibility and principled civic behavior. They believed in those core ideas we are supposed to celebrate over the barbecue this weekend: Freedom of conscience, vigorous public debate, the wisdom of the ballot box, and public institutions designed to protect the whole operation.
Their patriotism was true, deep … old fashioned.
It was also paid for. The names of a handful of cousins and brothers of my great grandfather are chiseled into the GAR statue on the common in Charlestown, New Hampshire. Their blood ran into the mud of more than one Virginia killing field.
An earlier relative’s flintlock musket use to hang over my aunt and uncle’s fireplace. Legend had it that it was used in anger against the Lobsterbacks in ’75 and ’76 … possibly at Bunker Hill (Breed’s Hill if you were a local).
As we enjoy the incredible bounty our forefathers and mothers made possible, I can’t help but worry that we have taken a bad turn as a country.
As I look at my young children, I wonder if they will ever feel the true feelings of liberty and patriotism that should be their birthright.
Somehow, as a nation, we are working overtime to circumscribe the respect for and protection of liberty. Freedom to be and think differently are under assault. As a result, honest faith and hope in our union … the real definition of patriotism … is being diminished.
One great –and constant- lesson my parents taught (pushed, cajoled, more like it), was to seek out the ideas, arguments –even friendship- of those who thought differently.
I can remember when Mormon boys would come by in the soaking heat of August, in shirt and tie, on bicycles, going door to door.
My reaction, of course, was total scorn. Which brought a sharp rebuke from my dad.
He said, look at it their way! They believe in something important enough that they’d give up a million easier and funner things, leave home and approach total strangers about a message they probably don’t yet fully understand. Admire their resolve and purpose!
And then he challenged me to consider what object or idea would cause me to drop everything and go knocking on doors … or some equivalent exercise in privation for a purpose.
Neither my mom nor dad were religious, but they encouraged deep respect for those who were. To them, religious nuts were preferable to smart, suburban kids who were a bit too smug and thought they knew things they didn’t. I can imagine my father thinking, “Well, at least they are working to figure it out.”
Where has this respect, even envy for the effort, gone? Why do we not approach all questions and arguments by first honoring conscience? Why do we not seek to understand?
These days we are all about pillorying those who think differently, say the “wrong” things or express things that are less than de rigueur.
No matter what you think may be true, recent events (not the least being last week’s Supreme Court decisions) are opening the door to an absolute melee against those who disagree, hold-out or otherwise argue with the “consensus.” The process (well described by Steven Pinker below) is both sinister and invidious.
The patriotism I was reared on honored the idea that win or lose, you forgave the foe and tried to part with a handshake. Now, as the career of one infamous tech CEO demonstrated, we favor public execution for the loser.
More disturbing is the enlistment of police powers to enforce consensus…which is now gnawing at nearly every corner of our commercial, political and personal lives.
We are steadily moving from rule “of the people, by the people, for the people” to the rule of potentates, supposedly wise but forever wanting.
Again, the idea we are supposed to celebrate this weekend was a union built on freedom of conscience, vigorous public discourse, and the wisdom of the ballot box, with public institutions designed to protect this modus operandi.
America has been about the best idea in all of history. She ain’t dead, but she appears injured. So maybe we should all spend a few quiet minutes this weekend thinking about whether and how she might be restored to health?