Americans overwhelmingly express pride in being American, yet the division is wide and deep about what being an American means.
Eighty-five percent of respondents say they are extremely or very proud to be an American.
Yet, 71 percent say they think the signers of the Declaration of Independence would be disappointed how the country has turned out.
Only 15 percent of conservatives and 12 percent of Republicans say the signers of the Declaration would be “pleased” with how the country has turned out. But, 41 percent of liberals and 42 percent of Democrats say the signers of the Declaration would be pleased.
Clearly, there are very different ideas between the two parties and between conservatives and liberals about what truths the signers of the Declaration felt were self-evident and what exactly rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” means. That’s not to say that there was unanimity of opinion even among those who signed the Declaration of Independence.
To state the obvious, there are signatures affixed to the bottom of the Declaration of men who saw no inherent contradiction in a nation founded on the idea of liberty in which slavery was legal.
My guess is that the 85 percent who today express pride in being an American do so because they believe this is a free and moral country. We all agree, I think, on these principles.
But, like the difference of opinion about slavery two centuries ago, we have huge disconnects among large parts of our population about what a free and moral country is about.
Anyone who follows what I write can guess where I stand.
It is hard for me to believe that many in our country see no contradiction in believing that freedom can be an American ideal while half of Americans live in households getting some sort of government benefits.
Or that somehow a country can be thought of as free in which 40 cents of every dollar the national economy produces goes to government at either the federal, state or local level.
Or that government can put us in debt to the tune of the total value of the annual output of our economy.
Or that the real debt burden sitting on the American public is some $90 trillion — more than five times the size of our gross domestic product — that represents the unfunded liabilities of Social Security, Medicare and other government programs.
How can we see this as a free, moral country when we legally and casually use abortion as a means of birth control and provide hundreds of millions of taxpayer funds to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider?
Or that government can tell us what kind of health care we need and must buy and can tell employers what kind of health care they must provide.
Or that government can force employers to provide birth control and abortion pills to employees, even, as in the case of the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby, it violates their religious convictions.
Or that children go to public schools where it is illegal to pray or teach traditional family values.
There’s been a lot of writing recently about the Civil War battle of Gettysburg. When President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous address at Gettysburg, Pa., in 1863, he said the nation’s business was “unfinished” and he defined the task ahead that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”
The challenges to freedom stand before us today as they stood before Lincoln then. America is deeply divided and confused, as it was when Gettysburg was fought.
We again need courageous leadership that will lead us back to the path of freedom and moral principle that inspired our founders and is our destiny.
Star Parker is an author and president of CURE, Center for Urban Renewal and Education.