Another Fourth of July has come and gone. It is moving to see the flag flown and traditional values reinforced. Sometimes we lose sight of just what those values are, misplaced in a cacophony of voices decrying the evils of the American system. When it comes to leadership in a free society, a strong moral compass is essential. Our current crisis reflects moral breakdowns being inappropriately framed as political or systemic issues. In order to successfully maintain our liberties, it is important to be able to tell the difference.
America is the longest ongoing experiment involving principles of liberty and personal rights and responsibility in history. America is the culmination of the innovative thought that defined the Renaissance in Europe. These reforms placed Judeo-Christian faith and scientific reason on equal footing, creating the solid moral, ethical, and social foundations that eventually became encoded in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. These are far more than political documents; they are the most thorough aggregation of moral codes ever assembled into a governing framework.
They clearly define the responsibilities of governments and individuals and assume that individual freedoms will be utilized in making moral choices without a mandate from the government. It is the government’s responsibility to allow the moral usage of such principles and punish or restrict the immoral application of them. Thus when John Adams stated “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people; It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other”, he clearly highlighted the balance these ideologies entailed. The results of successfully maintaining this balance are progress and innovation on an unprecedented historical scale.
If the voices of the people or their leaders begin to support actions that bend or fracture the bounds of morality, the system will begin to break down and, if not consistently corrected, will fail altogether. Thus we see the confusion being sown today. As political leaders and unelected administrators inconsistently enforce principle and the laws that guard those principles, we descend gradually into chaos.
For example, we discuss the termination of unborn children as a political issue, when it is fundamentally a moral issue. A people acting morally should need no codification of rules to treat children, women, minorities, employees, or any other group ethically. It is already implied in their social contract. No one group should receive preferential or oppressive treatment under the law. A moral administrator would naturally enforce the law consistently, just as our Fourteenth Amendment implies.
When political candidates say one thing when campaigning and do something quite different once obtaining office it is a moral problem. It is immoral to swear allegiance to our Constitution, then proceed to propose law or policy that directly violates that Constitution. It is a moral issue to use the power of office to deceive, divide, and oppress just to maintain power. When those in positions to defend the rights our founding documents elucidated fail to do so, or worse abuse those rights, they corrupt the very system designed to sustain those rights.
Our current problems can be traced to the socially selective, prejudicial and inconsistent, application of governing principles by which we should be behaving. This is not a fault of the system itself, but of the overseers of the system. It is exacerbated when citizens accept these inconsistencies without objection, an immoral and irresponsible act in itself. We should and must demand better of those we choose to represent us or administer the levers of power.
If we are to take a prescriptive approach to our problems, looking inward for understanding and ways to increase personal responsibility as a moral actor within the system is the only panacea. This translates to defending principle and placing individuals with uncompromised moral determination in positions of authority, a practice we seem to be deficient in at the moment.
It is unfortunate that a minority of bad actors can pollute the entire system. Again, not primarily a structural issue, but a moral issue attached to individuals in authority. When such actors reveal themselves, it is our duty as citizens to ensure they are removed as soon as legally practical. Tolerance of such indiscretion is tacit approval.
This intimates a responsibility and determination to ethically participate in the political process. Stability can only be maintained if we demand the same moral standards from our leaders we would require of ourselves. That is an obligation each one of us must take seriously. If we will not become informed and engaged then Thomas Jefferson’s famous quote takes precedent: “The government you elect is the government you deserve”. With renewal and dedication to unwavering moral principles, our flag will fly on proudly for ages. Otherwise, this Republic, like so many before, faces the oblivion mandated by the repetitive mistakes of history.