(Click here to buy season tickets.) America, at her core, is an act of defiance. It’s part of our spirit to launch rebellion when “in the course of human events” it’s required. Right now, you can feel the roiling forces of rebellion popping up from sea to shining sea and on almost every comment thread, but with a tone that feels deeply disquieting to most of us. Both on the right and the left you can sense the imperative that the old way of doing the business of democracy needs to be dumped in the harbor.
But maybe in America an act of rebellion isn’t really about shrugging off old and stale ideas, but about refusing to forget who we are – about returning and recommitting to the original ideals that gathered us together at the beginning? A re-founding of sorts (preferably without the muskets).
Just before his death this week, Senator John McCain left us his last words. “I hope those who mourn my passing – and even those who don’t – will celebrate as I celebrate a happy life lived in imperfect service to a country made of ideals, whose continued success is the hope of the world.”
As strong and hostile forces seek to divide us – north from south, left from right, black from white, urban from rural – perhaps the ultimate act of respectful rebelliousness is to not let them?
The idea of mutual respect runs strong through our nation’s heart. America is a country that by all rights shouldn’t exist – unlike other countries, we’re not united by religion or bloodline but around deeply held ideals that we hold self-evident, that we are created equal. And we are engaged together in common purpose to keep stretching toward a more perfect union.
Central to the Framers’ Big Idea, that a diverse people can self-govern, was the notion that contrasting ideas would have to clash – so that the best ideas can rise, power can be checked, and all of us in our multitudes of difference can be free to somehow – against all odds – strive to become exactly who we are. That competing ideas and diverse people are a strength to be embraced rather than a threat to be stifled has always formed the scaffolding around our country. That we disagree is our strength, not our weakness – and this uniquely America idea has lit the world.
“Americans have tended to believe without irony that Thomas Paine was right when he declared that we have it in our power to begin the world over again,” writes historian Jon Meacham in “The Soul of America.” But to do so, in this time when we seem to have forgotten our True North, “requires innumerable acts of citizenship and of private grace.”
We say it’s time for acts by citizens – large and small – of respectful rebellion, or maybe of rebellious respect. Either way, let the respectful clashing of opinion re-begin.**
**As we have this conversation in Tallahassee, The Village Square is launching our national project on college campuses. Find it online at respectandrebellion.com.
As we rebelliously consider principles like respect + truth, we’re struck with how far away from common virtues we’ve drifted. What if we found our way back to them, improving the world while we do? We’re challenging Tallahassee to host or attend a Ben Franklin Circle. First 5 hosts receive 2 season tickets.
Anger in service of a moral cause we believe in is righteous – easy to understand and forgive when it boils over. But when it’s the other team’s moral cause, it looks like an angry mob. Add siloed partisanship and no wonder why anger is escalating and people are afraid. We’ll aim for mutual understanding on left and right, before it’s too late.
Now fortified by the perfect electronic Pandora’s Box of social media platforms and weaponized from toxic chatrooms to The Kremlin, falsehoods are delivered to us with targeted precision by firehose. So what’s a country to do? We’ll ponder just how public discourse beats the profusion of propaganda.
Universities have long been experienced as a place where the ideals of free inquiry and deliberative democracy are embodied – even as the paragon of these values. But in recent years, colleges across the nation have become front-page news for alarming instances of censoring voices and protests escalating when two ideas come into conflict.
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