And to the Republic, for which it stands…
By Michael Ryan
We should be amazed at the rise of Bernie Sanders. We should also be alarmed.
A plug on Amazon.com for his book ‘Our Revolution’ recalls that the presidential candidate was “just an Independent senator from a small state with little name recognition. His campaign had no money, no political organization, and it was taking on the entire Democratic Party establishment.”
Yet, despite all that – and despite being a self-avowed socialist – his revolution nearly took hold: He earned 43 percent of the vote in the 2016 Democratic primary.
Sanders talked openly about changing the nature and identity of the country – not even Barack Obama was so open about “fundamentally transforming” America – and nearly won a major party primary.
The bottom line is, America’s identity as a republic with a limited government and hardy, self-reliant individuals free to chart their own destinies is no longer assured or even agreed-upon.
America has a full-blown identity crisis.
The U.S. Constitution was signed and adopted in September 1787, setting up America’s form of government as a republic limiting the power of government.
In a story headlined “How stable are democracies? ‘Warning signs are flashing red,’ ” the ‘New York Times’ writes:
“Across numerous countries, including Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States, the percentage of people who say it is ‘essential’ to live in a democracy has plummeted, and it is especially low among younger generations.”
In fact, according to researchers Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa, only about 30 percent of millennials say it’s “essential” to live in a democracy.
In their paper last July in the ‘Journal of Democracy,’ Mounk and Foa write that, to older Americans, living in a democracy is “an almost sacred value. When asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how ‘essential’ it is for them ‘to live in a democracy,’ 72 percent of those born before World War II check “10,” the highest value.”
In contrast, 26 percent of millennials say it’s not even important to select leaders in free elections.
“What we find is deeply concerning,” Mounk and Foa write. “Citizens in a number of supposedly consolidated democracies in North America and Western Europe have not only grown more critical of their political leaders. Rather, they have also become more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system, less hopeful that anything they do might influence public policy, and more willing to express support for authoritarian alternatives.”
That’s scary – especially the part about supporting an authoritarian regime. In particular: the number of Americans who think “army rule” would be a good thing or a very good thing was 1 in 16 in 1995. It was up to 1 in 6 in 2014.
“While those who hold this view remain in the minority,” Mounk and Foa write, “they can no longer be dismissed as a small fringe, especially since there have been similar increases in the number of those who favor a ‘strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with parliament and elections’…”
We clearly can’t afford to be complacent about this, just hoping youths will come around.
Note Mounk and Foa: “Three decades ago, most scholars simply assumed that the Soviet Union would remain stable. This assumption was suddenly proven false. Today, we have even greater confidence in the durability of the world’s affluent, consolidated democracies. But do we have good grounds for our democratic self-confidence? …
“Even in some of the richest and most politically stable regions of the world, it seems as though democracy is in a state of serious disrepair.”
So many people seem to believe America is just a location where we happen to have a lot of stuff and a lot of freedom. And the American Dream seems to be all about consumerism.
America is much more than that. It’s a set of ideas and ideals – most importantly, the principles that our rights come from God and that the individual is sovereign.
We need to remind ourselves – and our children need to be taught – how special and unique that is. Yet, we talked recently with a group of eighth graders – who, the teacher confirmed, probably never had even heard the term “American exceptionalism.”
Everything needs periodic renewal, and our republic is no different. But to renew our republic, we need to understand how extraordinary and one-of-a-kind it is.
And how fragile.
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” President Ronald Reagan once said. “We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
We don’t need a revolution. We need a renaissance – a recommitment to the ideas, ideals and principles that make this republic the greatest nation on Earth.
For that, we don’t need a charismatic leader. We need an educated and engaged electorate.
Michael Ryan is the editorial page editor of ‘The Augusta Chronicle’ in Georgia.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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.”
A startling 45 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds believe that international law should supersede the U.S. Constitution.
A Harris Interactive National Survey found, as ‘The Washington Times’ put it, that “American society is increasingly polarized and divided – and that knowledge of the nation’s common heritage and ideals is eroding.”
Adds ‘The Washington Times’: “63 percent maintain that American national identity is growing weaker; 24 percent state that Americans are already so divided we can no longer sustain a common identity. Most alarming is the result among younger respondents: Those below age 35 are more likely to declare that there is no national identity.”
A number of organizations have risen up to promote and educate young Americans on our nation’s history and our founding principles. They have created patriot curricula available for schools, churches and other organizations throughout the nation.
One such organization is the nonprofit Values Through History (www.valuesthroughhistory.com), which has a curriculum and interactive program called “Why America is Free.”
We need to ramp up early-American history education, and the U.S. Department of Education needs to pave the way for such curricula to get into every school in America.