Opinion Latest

Beneath the traditions, let’s consider our democracy

Beneath the traditions, let’s consider our democracy

When our three children were young, we had a regular July 4 tradition. For probably about 15 years, we would head to Bryson City for the Firecracker 5K, a very low-key road race that starts downtown and heads out toward Deep Creek and then back.

Not all of us ran each year, as Lori was sometimes pregnant or caring for an infant, or she would run and I’d take kid duty, and sometimes we pushed the jogging stroller with one or two children in it. 

We would hang out in Bryson City’s Freedom Fest afterward, partake in the fun, and then — depending on whether we had out-of-town company or what the weather was like — we might head straight to Deep Creek, rent tubes and enjoy a cool float on a hot summer day before heading home and throwing something on the grill for supper. Those family traditions make for great memories.

I still love Independence Day, but I consider it more of a national landmark than a holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas. As a fourth- or fifth-grader, we had to memorize of the passages of the Declaration of Independence, and I think perhaps that was one of those times in my youth when I became mesmerized by the power and beauty of the written word:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness …. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Despite the political divisions that sometimes overwhelm us now and the sins of our past — this country was founded on principles that all of us should still hold dear. We can all admit, now, those words about equality certainly didn’t apply to Native Americans, Black slaves or women. But that’s why our history is both painful and inspirational, because eventually we did recognize those shortcomings in our founding principles and worked through tough times to erase those early institutional prejudices. Individuals may still hold these prejudices, but they aren’t on the law books.

Related Items

I know the Declaration of Independence is what July 4 is all about, but the spirit of the Declaration and the laws of the Constitution are the cornerstones upon which our democratic republic are built.

And so here’s, I think, a valid question: do we still embody those principles? Can we be led down a path where individual freedoms are not guaranteed, where the government works for individual leaders instead of for the citizenry? Can democracy actually be taken away by a few decisions by people in powerful places?

Worse yet, is it possible that the golden age of democracy is over? Are we moving past the era where America stood as the shining example for the entire world of how a diverse citizenry could keep moving forward and embracing the principles of individual choice despite our differences?

I think many of us see that as a real possibility. It’s frightening.

It’s a notion to ponder as we watch patriotic parades, wave flags, wear red white and blue and ponder the past and the future of this country that’s unlike any other in the world. Happy Independence Day.

(Scott McLeod is the publisher and editor of The Smoky Mountain News. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.