What is America?
There is a common joke that it is a “gaffe” when a politician accidentally speaks the truth. I believe it was a gaffe from Senator Lindsey Graham uttered the following words: “America is not a race. America is an idea.” I fully embrace this notion.
What is America? Not where is it, why is it, but WHAT is it as an idea? I contend it is this:
America is a secular, omni-ethnic, representative, democratic republic.
Let’s unravel this definition.
Secular: America is secular, in that, while the government must respect the free exercise of religion, the government can not establish or sponsor religion. This brings up 2 points. First, is America a Theistic nation, where belief in a higher power or powers is a baseline? If so, what about atheists? (I can argue either side). Second, from this it is possible to deduce that the citizenry can bring their religious-culture-inspired ideas to the public square, but can not enshrine a particular religious practice in law.
Omni-Ethnic: I use this neologism to imply all ethnicities are welcome, and none are specifically barred from participation. I use this awkward word intentionally, to imply inclusivity, as well as to recognize that ethnicity and race are fundamental to identity, and can not be ignored. I use this awkward word intentionally, also to connote that there is no such thing as a race neutral policy or law. At this point in our history, I believe people do not have the ability to be race neutral. As a result we must be conscious of this dimension in every public decision, as we do with gender, and sexual identity.
Representative: I use this word to indicate that we elect representatives to deal with the details of governance in a way that reflects the people of that constituency.
Democratic: America is a democracy. While we argue over everything, we vote. The people decide the issues through the common exercise of their franchise.
Republic: In a republic, the citizens are sovereign. In a country where the notion of the unitary executive perniciously creeps into public discourse, it is important that we remember that this is a republic. It’s not a monarchy, it is not a dictatorship. It is a country where the people rule. Those who govern do so only by the consent of the governed.
This has important implications. The first is that the People Rule. The President is not our ruler, merely the head of one of 3 co-equal branches of our government. We, The People, rule through our democratically elected representatives. We set the rules, and determine where our money is going. The President, and the Executive Branch are there to “execute” our wishes. The only time a President gets to set policy, is if we, through our representatives give him that ability. Finally, if there are questions or disputes on those rules we place on ourselves, the Supreme Court decides. But in the end, The People Rule.
To conclude, America is a country that values freedom. Freedom is not absolute, because you have freedom in so far as you are not hurting others. I’ll mention more about this incoming posts. Its founding ensures that we can live according to our values… So long as we are not hurting others. Why? Simply because we are all granted the right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness, both individually, and as a whole. And we have a responsibility to others.
I thank Senator Graham for his gaffe, and look forward to his retirement. It helped to frame my definition about what this country is. About what my country is. And what we need to preserve and protect.
(Related post: I Can’t Convince Anyone)