Commentary

printed 07/05/2019

As we mark the 243rd anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we ought to be asking ourselves how independent we are in our thinking about the role of government.

Clearly, we are not as independent as we once were, in terms of government requiring us to do certain things whether we like it or not, and as regards our reliance on government to do things for us.

It’s a matter of political philosophy which of these rules and regulations are good and which are bad, and the answer often depends on matters of self-interest as well as the inevitable societal changes the country has experienced with the passage of time.

How or whether government provides certain benefits to the population is where our national dialogue breaks down, as our individual thinking turns out to be less independent than we would like to believe. But has it gotten worse?

Consider this: The voting public picked sides during a presidential election fueled by reports from news outlets that were paid to smear candidates with all manner of outrageous accusations. Some political factions went so far as to urge the incarceration of news people, whose criticisms went too far, in their opinion.

Voters, meanwhile, pledged loyalty to their parties without much thought, and rejected appeals to think for themselves.

This, as it happens, was in 1796 when Federalist John Adams edged Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson in a fight over what our national interests should be — business and banking promoted by a strong federal government or state’s rights, anti-elitism and taxing the rich.

What this says is that the democratic process has never been pretty and is prone to bad political behavior. Yet, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, it remains better than everything else that’s been tried from time to time.

Our freedom to disagree — though we’d like to do it more civilly — is what the Declaration of Independence led to and what the annual celebration is all about.

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