I've been listening to Hamilton while I work on house projects, as it's incredibly motivating.
While I acknowledge its historical flaws, it's got me thinking about the people who built this country.
In the latter half of the 18th Century, a small group of idealists fought a desperate revolution and wrestled a country from nothing into a collected group of states acting for the benefit of the whole. Every history book I've read says that most of them expected not only to fail, but to die in the process, either in battle or hanged as traitors.
After the war, we almost fell apart again. Ideas from every direction fought for primacy in the new government. Slavery almost destroyed us before we began, egos clashed as acknowledged heroes fought for what they believed with words and pens, each certain that his vision, the one that had sustained him through revolution, was the one that had to carry through the ages. A telling number of the contemporary narratives refer to the United States of America in terms of 'if' it will survive, not 'when' it survives.
The nation they created stood on shaky legs, propped up mostly by the charisma of George Washington, until we could establish not only a Constitution, but an economy and a foreign policy and a political process and an understanding of the role of the governed in government. What would the role of the citizen be? The journalist? The worker? The businessman?
For the last two hundred and some years, dedicated public servants have fought to build the structure that stands on that foundation, sometimes fighting one another. We've faced civil war (slavery almost destroyed us again), disaster, fiscal collapse, scandal, and massive movements by internal demographics to demand equal rights to those originally established for white male property holders. Each time, the foundation has held, and we've hammered out a new piece of the structure.
Two hundred years of judicial deliberations, each hoping not to weaken the structure. Two hundred years of Congressional votes and Presidential signatures, honing law into a useful tool on the whetstone of the Supreme Court. Two hundred years of soldiers and sailors, men and and women willing to spill blood for it. Two hundred years of agency functionaries quietly building procedure and policy into a bulwark. Two hundred years of journalism, demanding truth and accountability. Two hundred years of voters, hurling their will into the ballot box to be heard and calling out their elected representatives with "...and I vote!" Two hundred years of protest and riot, demanding to be heard when all else failed.
Here in the early years of the 21st Century, I am something the Founding Fathers never really anticipated. A University-educated woman voting, owning property, working and holding her own money, advocating for other women in government. They weren't even certain that what they built would outlive them, much less grow to encompass me. But they did it; they had faith that what they were doing would stand through what they couldn't envision, and it has.
The nation is far from perfect. There's still much to do to fulfill the ideals of universal equality and justice that even the Founding Fathers understood imperfectly (at best), but those ideals are an attainable goal.
But here in those early years of the 21st Century, I feel that what they built is in as much danger as it's ever been in. The President is a dangerous maniac, Congress is complicit in his destruction of the structures that support this nation and refuses to challenge apparent abuses of power, and together they have the power to undermine and alter the Supreme Court. Those quiet functionaries, who've been scrambling to run the day to day functions of the nation on dwindling funding, are being downsized and removed from their positions. Institutional knowledge is being lost, judges are being challenged, the government is at war with the media, investigators are being fired and denied access, and our political system is threatened both by the fear motivating some Americans and the apathy keeping others out of the voting booth.
I'm terrified, quietly. We're precariously balanced; if we don't motivate the voices of reason to ACT, the voices of madness will drag us over a cliff.
What sustains me? Faith.
Faith that what they built, that two hundred years of careful consideration and balanced maneuvering and enlightened self-interest have supported and weathered this structure sufficiently to withstand the storm.
I believe that if the citizens will fight for it, what was hammered out in the last part of the 17th Century is strong enough. But we have to fight.
It's not just voting, though we must do that. It's also holding our leaders accountable. It's funding and supporting journalists who ask the right questions and refuse to accept misdirection. It's calling and writing and showing up whenever you can. It's holding one another to a higher standard of honesty in our political debate. It's rewarding integrity, not just victory.
This country was based on an idea of shared power and responsibility. We are not merely the governed, over and outside our will. We are the Citizens. Our role in government was laid out over two hundred years ago: speak our minds and our hearts, demand answers, and participate in the process. We were given this power by people who, not even conceiving of all of us, believed in us.
Believe in them, and use it.