Psst. I’ve got a secret. There are a bunch of wealthy white men having a closed-door meeting. Rumor is they are conspiring to overthrow the government.
Sounds spooky, right? Well, your perspective probably changes depending on what details are added.
What if I told you that the group was the Cabinet members of President Donald Trump, and their “overthrowing” was a debate about the 25th Amendment and declaring the president unable to serve? After all, headlines last year were atwitter with rumors that it had been considered. Presumably, those on the left who are pushing for impeachment would celebrate the news.
But what if I said the conspirators were sick of our tax regime? And they wanted to have a larger voice in governmental affairs? Silly Republicans, right?
Not exactly. The latter scenario really did occur this past week, 243 years ago.
The founding fathers were some of the leading lights of their age, and nearly all well-to-do. They were a collection of un-ordinary men at a unique moment on the arc of history. Suffice to say, their acts and words were conspiracy and sedition. And the world is better off because of it.
Of course, I say that because I am somewhere along the right side of the political spectrum. Back in 2011, two academics published a paper through the Harvard Kennedy School. What did they find? The patriotic fervor surrounding the Fourth of July increased political affiliation with the Republican Party.
This distinction is especially apparent over the past holiday week. On one hand, you have a rich white guy in Trump leading his “Salute to America” preceding the customary “Capitol Fourth” on public broadcasting. On the other, you have a rich(er) white guy — Nike founder Phil Knight — backing his celebrity spokesman Colin Kaepernick and ordering the withdrawal of shoes embroidered with a historic American flag.
It is interesting to observe the ways in which those on opposite ends of the political spectrum deviate from each other regarding our nation’s heritage. Republicans often hallow the trappings of the Revolution, from the Gadsden Flag (the yellow one with a snake) to the claim that only “three percent” of American colonists took up arms against England.
Meanwhile, in recent years, Democrats have jettisoned portions of their Revolutionary heritage. For decades, Democrats would celebrate an annual “Jefferson-Jackson Day” dinner as a fundraiser, contrasting with the GOP’s “Lincoln Day.” However, Thomas Jefferson — the famed author of the Declaration — has fallen out of favor because he was a slave owner. Maine’s Democratic Party has abandoned him (and Andrew Jackson) in favor of George Mitchell and Frances Perkins. Other state parties have done the same.
I suppose this is where “conservatives” and “progressives” diverge. The former spend countless hours and words honoring the aspects of our past that ground and inspire us. The powerful words of the Declaration of Independence– “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” — are revered by many Republicans. The fact that the founders could not overcome the sins of their era, slavery chief among them, should be remembered and acknowledged. However, it does not invalidate their honor due.
Meanwhile, those on the left believe in the sentiment expressed in the Declaration. However, the words’ scribe has been downgraded by Democrats because the stain of slavery runs afoul of modern values as they have progressed. And because some small extremist group has tried to misappropriate a longstanding American icon — the “Betsy Ross flag” — the progressive movement has seen fit to abandon it.
Our civic religion — pronounced most clearly through the Declaration — is one of the great uniters of our nation. Or, at least it historically has been. And just because it comes from a long-ago group of rich white men does not mean we should give it up. Depending on your perspective, overthrowing the government needn’t be a crazy idea.