Paul W. Barada
How many of you had the chance to watch the Inauguration festivities last Monday? Regardless of party politics or political persuasion, the Inauguration of a President of the United States is always an impressive ceremony and a day-long celebration of the successful, in this instance, continuation of power in this nation.
We are one of the very few nations in history that peacefully changes its governmental leadership without violence or revolution. More importantly, last week’s Inauguration is the latest successful demonstration that our experiment in self-government continues to work. From an historic perspective, the United States was the first nation in modern times to demonstrate that people were capable of ruling themselves. To find the original model for it, one must go back to the Golden Age of Greece or the Roman Empire. During the intervening two or three thousand years, mankind was not very successful at self-governance. As a matter of fact, it was the tyranny of a king that first spawned the American Experiment some 230 years ago.
The road we are on has not been without its bumps, ruts, and stumbling blocks, however. It took the American Civil War ultimately to test whether or not we really believed what the Founding Fathers had written in the Declaration of Independence: “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.”
There were times in our history when some would have amended that principle to read, “…that all men, except African American, are created equal…” There have been other times when some would have amended it to read “…that all men, except Catholics, foreigners, and women, are created equal…” Happily, our history is filled with the stories of great Americans who never let a few cause the rest of us to stray from what the Founding Fathers intended.
More recently, that magic sentence from the Declaration has been expanded to mean more, not less, than the Founders intended. The Declaration states that all men (and, obviously, women) are created equal and that, therefore, by extension, they are entitled to equality of opportunity. Some, today, would contend that equal opportunity also guarantees an equal outcome for all. That is clearly not implied or inferred from out first Founding Document.
The point is the American Experiment is still an on-going exercise. It is an ever evolving process. As Winston Churchill once said, “A democratic form of government is the worst possible type of government, except for everything else.” The preamble to the Constitution of the United States reads, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” I doubt that we will ever reach the point when our union will ever be perfected in the literal sense. I think we, the people, will continue for the next millennium to define and redefine what the formation of a more perfect union means, but I doubt that some generation, yet unborn, will finally conclude the United States has reached a state of “perfect union.”
I think we will always be refining it. Furthermore, I think striving for a “more perfect union” is not just a national quest, but an exercise that continues around the city council table, in the chambers of county councils, as well as in the general assemblies of the several state governments. We can see that evolution of defining the rights of the states versus the federal government continuing to this day. We can also see it in the constant struggle in our own state over the rights of local governments versus the power of the state. In many respects, that constant shifting of power is part of the continuing effort to establish that “more perfect union” at the grassroots level.
Last week’s Inauguration, however, was a tribute to how far we have come as a people and a nation since the Founding Fathers sat together in Independence Hall in Philadelphia during that unusually hot summer of 1776. The compromise and debate about what the United States should be started there and continues to this day. But the more salient point is that it does continue! Unlike other nations, we do not go through revolution after revolution with the transfer or continuation of power every four years.
The Inauguration, from beginning to end, was an affirmation that we have come a very long way since 1776, but it also showed that we still have a long way to go to approach that “more perfect union.” It was a majestic event filled with pomp and circumstance that accented the very best about what the United States has become at the beginning of the 21st century. Despite all our internal wrangling, it is encouraging to note how we can come together every four years to celebrate what we, ourselves, have accomplished on the road to that “more perfect union.”
That’s –30- for this week.