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Embrace the ideals America stands for

Embrace the ideals America stands for File photo

I know that many people are so upset with the state of politics and division in our country that they struggled with the idea of celebrating the Fourth of July this year. Patriotism is and always has been a slippery and problematic thing. We’ll get back to that. 

Let’s start with this: America is as much an idea as it is a place. I would argue that it is even more so an idea — or a set of ideals — enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, which is these days much discussed but little understood.

To understand America is to understand an immutable truth: we have never lived up to these ideals, and yet we have aspired to live up to them and made sure, but jagged progress, toward reaching them.

We live in this tension, which began with the same man who authored the Declaration, a radical document that proposed that all men are created equal. Jefferson was a man who elsewhere wrote passionately about the stain of slavery while during his lifetime owning over 600 slaves.

He was a man who is commonly believed to be a Christian but who was instead a Deist, one who actually rewrote the Bible, removing all of Jesus’ miracles and the story of the Resurrection. Jefferson believed that religion was a private and personal matter between an individual and the creator. His relationship to it was complex, to say the least.

Here’s something else. Jefferson was a genius and a founding father, but he was also a hypocrite and a deeply flawed man. Ironically, so are many pivotal characters in the Bible. We live in this tension between what we are and what we aspire to be. We always have and we still do.

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What feels different now is that a large segment of the country has abandoned fealty to these ideals in favor of unwavering loyalty to one man, a man who has over and over demonstrated through his deeds and actions an absolute contempt for these same ideals, a man who references with regularity both the Constitution and the Bible without even the slightest indication that he has ever read, much less understood, a single word in either.

Let’s be clear and specific. What Donald Trump did after losing the election was to attempt a coup d’etat. He not only refused to accept the results of the election, he actively and aggressively attempted to overturn it. There is little one can imagine that is more unconstitutional than that.

Worse still, the Supreme Court judges that he appointed joined with other Republican-appointed judges and ruled this week that the President of the United States has immunity from any action under the sun as long as it is performed in his or her “official” capacity.

To further complicate matters, “official” actions are not clearly defined and will be left for the court to decide, meaning that what one president may be able to get away with could be different from another president, since it will be up to the court to determine what falls under the purview of official and unofficial actions.

As even the most casual student of American history knows, the Supreme Court has gotten it wrong many, many times, throughout our history, but this ruling puts us in a very dangerous and unprecedented place, not to mention a place that is not just in tension with Constitutional ideals, but in direct opposition to them. It effectively undermines the proposition that no one in America is above the law.

What the Supreme Court has done with this ruling is to fashion a throne for a king in the United States of America, seemingly forgetting that we already fought a war over this. The very idea that a man as feckless, corrupt and casually cruel as Donald Trump might sit on this throne with total immunity for whatever he chooses to do should send chills down the spine of every American, regardless of party affiliation.

This is a petty tyrant, a vindictive man who not only stoked the fires for the January 6 attack on the Capitol but has called the participants in that attack “hostages” and promised to set them free if he is elected, along with threatening reprisals against a whole host of his “enemies.”

With our system of checks and balances no longer in place, what is to stop him?

This is what: the American people. It is we who must overcome our despair and cynicism and rise up to meet this threat head on with all the strength and force that is necessary. We must all remember that our loyalty is not to a party or to a politician but to an idea, that all men and women are created equal, that no one is above the law, that we can again unite for the greater good and heal this terrible rift in our country that divides us.

I think most of us, except for the most ardent Trump supporters, would agree that we need two better candidates than we have now. I think most of us would agree that we ought to be able to afford a home in our own hometowns. I think most of us would agree that “live and let live” is still a pretty solid proposition. I think most of us would even agree that the two-party system is broken and needs to be fixed.

There is much that still unites us, much that we can agree, a real foundation to rebuild on. But cruelty and misinformation have been normalized over the past eight years (and it really goes back further than that). Patriotism has been distorted and has become an intoxicant, an excuse to despise fellow Americans.

We have about five months to get our act together. I can’t bring myself to consider too deeply the alternative.

In the meantime, I urge those in despair to embrace the flag as a symbol for those ideals, freedom and equality for all, no one above the law in these United States of America. The flag belongs to you. Remember that. Because America is still an idea as much as it is a place.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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