Without a doubt, the three things that have most plagued human beings throughout history are war, disease and the hideous leadership so many have had to endure.
Most of our ancestors spent their lives under the thumb of a monarch, despot, tyrant or dictator. They worked, came and went, and even lived or died, by the whim of their rulers.
Sadly enough, this is the burden for many living in the world even today.
We have no real idea of how many people in history have been killed by their own governments. But good estimates put the toll of the Holocaust alone at more than 6 million — and under three communist regimes in the Soviet Union, China and Cambodia, up to 70 million were slaughtered by their own governments.
And that’s just in the 20th Century. Leaders have had 19 other centuries in which to screw things up for the rest of us.
Americans, on the other hand, hit the leadership lottery. Not with today’s leaders, of course, who rank right up there with pests and parasites in public opinion polls. Rather, we hit the lottery with our Founders.
Given the chance to design a nation from scratch, a nearly unprecedented opportunity in all of human history, our Founding Fathers charted a different course for us — one in which we, not a king or potentate, are sovereign over our own lives.
It was a purely radical idea at the time. And still is.
Many of our Founders’ contemporaries would’ve preferred the psychological comfort of an overlord – someone calling the shots from on high, even though we fought a bloody war to escape such an arrangement.
In contrast, our Founders, while they argued bitterly over the details – should the states or federal government have more power, should the legislature or executive carry more weight? – decided to take a chance on the people being able to govern themselves.
It has been, indeed, history’s grand experiment.
You hit the lottery.
Of course, it’s legendary how many lottery winners squander their winnings.
Our task, so much less burdensome than that of our forebears, is to not squander what has been bequeathed us. Looking at the evidence, it’s hard not to conclude that squandering it is, indeed, what we are doing.
Since the tumultuous 1960s — which were spattered with the unrest of an unpopular war, assassinations, the fight for women’s rights and a bloody struggle for civil rights, while peppered with drugs and growing cynicism — a homegrown anti-Americanism has taken root. Moving perhaps too far away from their admittedly romanticized versions of American history, schools have in recent decades too often failed to help students appreciate the beauty of our system of self-governance.
And, as the shadow of the Cold War has lifted over succeeding generations, the evil, oppression, want and murder of communism has faded in our children’s eyes. Many of them consider it simply a lifestyle choice, and a bizarrely attractive one.
Meanwhile, judged by today’s more painfully enlightened standards, our framers have been sullied in many eyes, particularly for abiding and abetting the rueful bondage of other human beings. We wish it were otherwise, with everything in us.
But we’re only hurting ourselves if we reject the Founders and their genius for having gotten slavery so terribly wrong. We don’t hurt them, or extract any semblance of justice, by repudiating everything they did, said or wrote. We can’t make ourselves purer by purging our history.
Quite the opposite.
We have allowed this growing anti-Americanism among our own to not only divide us, but to eat away at the foundation that was laid for us — the very liberty and prosperity that we now enjoy.
It is, in short, not fashionable to tout the Founding Fathers. But this disparate group of educated, worldly men came together and, in the words of Abraham Lincoln so many years later, “brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
If we turn our backs on them completely, we turn away from every good thing we’ve inherited.
In his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln agonized over the thought that those who died there might have done so in vain if the Union wasn’t saved — and “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
There’s no doubt older generations were exposed to an idealistic view of our Founders. But that doesn’t mean either them or their ideals should be discarded on the ash heap of history.
If you really want to get in touch with this nation’s founding, a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown and environs is definitely in order.
You’ll feel you’ve gone back in time as tour guides and hosts in full colonial garb get into their roles with passion. You’ll think you’re actually getting a chat with Thomas Jefferson, or hearing an oration by James Madison. On top of Monticello, you’ll see why Jefferson hated being away from his mountain retreat, even to help found a country.
It’s all well and good that we’ve re-examined our roots. But if we’re going to revisit the Founders, let’s at least take the good with the bad.
The good, after all, is very, very good.