In the swirl of the current presidential election, one thing every pundit and politician talks about is how angry the American people are with Washington and the political establishment – of both parties. We’re in a throw-all-the-bums-out mood.
But it’s really nothing new. We go through these populist, anti-establishment cycles every 40 years or so. It’s written into our national DNA. In fact, we were founded in a great wave of antiestablishmentarianism.
You think we’re in a rebellious mood today? It’s nothing compared to how mad we were in 1776.
Ever read the Declaration of Independence? Reading it in fifth-grade history class is good, but that’s not what I mean. Do yourself a favor this weekend … Read it word for word. It will make today’s political battles seem tame by comparison.
My family reads the Declaration every Fourth of July, with each of my children and guests assigned to read different paragraphs aloud. Our tradition began years ago, when we invited the outgoing supreme allied commander, Gen. George Joulwan (one of my oldest friends and our daughter’s godfather), to give the Fourth of July sermon at our church. Instead of preaching, he gave us a history lesson. He set the stage by describing the American colonies in the 1770s. Then he read the entire Declaration of Independence, starting with the stirring preamble….
… 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….
At the time, I was struck by how angry the Founders were, how they reflected the frustration of their fellow colonists. Hence began the McFarland family tradition of taking an hour out of the weekend to read the Declaration at home. For years my children groaned at the reading, thinking how unfair it was that they were stuck doing “homework” while their friends were at picnics or the beach.
But then my kids grew up. A few years ago, my older daughter, a Naval Academy graduate, invited some military friends for the Fourth of July weekend. My other daughter invited some friends who had studied with her at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. We all sat around the table after dinner, and each person read a paragraph or two from the Declaration.
It started out as a forced exercise; their friends figured that humoring the parents was the cost of a weekend in the Hamptons. But as we went around the table, taking turns reading, their interest – and outrage – started to build. They stood up. They raised their voices. They pounded their fists on the table. We could feel how angry the colonists were with the king of Great Britain as those around the table practically shouted out the Declaration’s long list of grievances.
And guess what … our Founding Fathers’ grievances against the king were the same grievances we have against Washington today:
• He erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people;
• He suspended our laws;
• He refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people;
• He obstructed the Administration of Justice;
• He imposed Taxes on us without our Consent.
All you have to do is substitute “Washington” for “King,” and there you have it: today’s rebellion against the political elite.
Then an Army ranger, just back from Afghanistan, read the last line: we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor. We all looked at each other with silent acknowledgment. Many of our guests had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan or had walked patrol on Navy ships in the Pacific. They were the men and women willing to put their lives on the line to guarantee us the same freedoms our forebears fought for. Suddenly the Declaration of Independence was as relevant as it had been nearly two and a half centuries ago.
The next morning, our guests donned red, white and blue, strapped a 6×8 American flag to a pole and jogged through the streets of Southampton Village. They called it the “Freedom Run.” Passersby waved, drivers honked their horns and passengers leaned out of car windows to cheer.
Anger with the ruling elites is nothing new, and neither is rebellion. Our Founding Fathers claimed we had not only the right, but the responsibility, to remove a king who no longer listened to his people. After winning our independence, those Founding Fathers went on to write a Constitution that gives us the right to elect representatives to lead us – and to remove them if we choose. They work for us, not the other way around.
So if you occasionally shake your head with disgust this summer and autumn over the vitriol of the presidential campaign, remember your right to a revolution. People fought and bled and died so you could have it. And come November, show up at the polls to exercise it.