These past few months have been a moment of reflection for many Americans, making us more aware than ever of our values and rights as American citizens. From government-mandated lockdowns and restrictions in response to the Coronavirus to numerous demonstrations across the country (and even the world), our freedoms as a nation have been put to the test – making us realize their great strength but at the same time question if they still hold the same importance in our society today.
Like many, when I think of America, I think of freedom and opportunity – two factors of our identity as a nation that are deeply rooted in our beginnings as a country. In fact, part of what I think is so exceptional about our country and our identity is how we remain true to these founding values. These values have been tested in many instances such as struggles for equal rights for people of color and women, economic depression, and wars. While our country has adapted and evolved to these challenges, our values as a nation have endured and continue to be at the core of who we are.
In these pivotal moments of our history, like the one we are currently experiencing, our values can also act as a point of division through our differing visions of the future of our country. While these challenging times can sometimes be unprecedented, their underlying questioning of our values can be familiar.
The American Revolution was a defining moment for our nation in more ways than one, also acting as one of the first instances where America faced a challenge in determining its ideals and future. While some saw a future free from British rule, others envisioned a life with the protections of Great Britain with a willingness to relinquish certain freedoms to support a life they saw best fit for them. In this case, we can see how this experience is entirely American -- a situation in which we grapple with a society at odds with its vision for the future, but ultimately see the strength of our ideals of liberty and freedom because of their ability to prevail.
As our Founding Fathers expressed in the Declaration of Independence, “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.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
While we hold the statement of "All men are created equal" from the Declaration of Independence as an important basis of the American identity, this has clearly not always been nor might it still be the case when we look at instances of racial, sexual, or gender discrimination. While we continue to fight this battle against biases and discrimination in our society and its institutions, our ultimate goal of seeking equality and ensuring that all Americans have the same freedoms and rights allows us as a nation to continue to adapt and achieve a true expression of our American ideals.
When we consider this concept of the strength of our government and its responsibility to preserve our rights as the governed, I think we place ourselves in an interesting position of being able to seek balance.
When we look at what is currently happening in our country, how do we find a balance in preserving these freedoms? How do we ensure the right of our people to voice themselves against a system they feel is unjust while preserving the right of people to safely continue commerce and protect their property? At the same time, how do we preserve people’s individual freedoms to live their life how they see fit and safest for them while also ensuring the safety of a nation amid a pandemic? In this way, it makes me wonder: how do we, or should we, decide what rights are put ahead of others? Can all rights be preserved in every situation and what role does our government play in this?
While every situation where we struggle to find balance in preserving each right we have is unique, I do not think these are challenges that would be foreign to our Founding Fathers. In building the United States, they were able to craft a political system that created room for growth and reform while ensuring the preservation of our basic freedoms and rights through documents such as the Constitution. As a nation with a government that reflects the will of its people, we have and will continue to prevail because of our ability to challenge our institutions and one another while ultimately being able to preserve who we are at our core.