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EDITORIAL: The Fourth of July

Updated July 3, 2020 - 9:50 pm

How are we doing, safeguarding those “unalienable Rights” with which we are “endowed by our Creator” — in support of which 56 patriots solemnly pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, 244 years ago? This question becomes even more important given the nation’s current social unrest. And so does the holiday we celebrate today.

We remain free by most measures even as the coronavirus pandemic rages through the nation. Americans can still pretty much live where we want, work where we want, drive where we want. In fact, for women and minorities, those liberties have expanded over the past 70 years. We should all be proud of that even if there’s much more work to be done to ensure our liberties are enjoyed by all Americans.

In the time preceding the Revolutionary War, one of the colonists’ complaints about King George was that he had “erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” That sounds familiar today, with seemingly autonomous federal agencies free to impose hugely burdensome regulations on businesses and the public.

But we must remember that the American Revolution was, first and foremost, an optimistic enterprise, an experiment in radical notions of freedom that had never been tried in centuries of human history. Yes, our Founders had their flaws. But their approach stands in stark contrast to today’s young “revolutionaries,” who — despite legitimate grievances — topple statues, demand the dismantling of American institutions and seem much more intent on tearing down than building up.

“Today’s claimants see the future as de novo, a blank slate, an exercise in elimination,” Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger wrote Thursday. “It is closer to what the ever-ironic 1960s radical anarchist Abbie Hoffman called ‘revolution for the hell of it.’ That isn’t enough.”

Indeed, a philosophy of anger and laying waste is unlikely to result in a workable foundation for governance. The fight for equality for all is worth undertaking, of course. But the framework of the nation’s founding document provides ample opportunity to achieve the necessary advances. For that reason alone, it should be celebrated for its genius.

In recent years, as government has grown bigger and more intrusive, more freedom has been lost than gained in the United States, a result that surely was never the intention of the Founders. Even precious and foundational liberties such as the right to speak one’s mind are currently under siege in many quarters. But it’s worth remembering during these tumultuous times that the protesters marching in the streets are empowered by the Bill of Rights, not oppressed by it, and that, yes, on this Fourth of July, there’s still vastly more freedom to celebrate here than virtually anywhere else in the world.

But to keep it that way — and better still, to expand it — we all should remember the words of Ronald Reagan: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

A version of this editorial has appeared in the Review-Journal since 2012.

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