Twelve score and one year ago our founders set out to establish a union unparalleled in recent history — the world’s first government of the people, by the people and for the people. They had grand ideas and even grander visions but were lucky enough to be grounded in reality.
They did not envision a Donald Trump tweeting out his thoughts or a Rutherford B. Hayes talking on a telephone. Neither, for that matter, did they foresee the soaring leadership provided by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt or an America yearning for the “morning in America” message of Ronald Reagan. They did not anticipate the culture wars of the 1960s, the disintegration of the ’80s, the race protests of the aughts.
They did not envision this, you see, because 18th-century America was not the utopia held up for our regard today. The passage of the sands of time helps us forget the debauched past, but the nation’s founders had foibles of their own which sound stunningly familiar.
They had their treasonous Benedict Arnold, infighting, and tough-as-nails quarrelers. They gathered in secret (what? No transparency?), didn’t get their constitution approved until years later (cue prognostications of “the president’s power severely limited”) and passed more compromises than any other Congress.
Thomas Jefferson did not have Twitter but he had snail mail. A prolific writer, enough imprudence passed between his fingers to keep President Trump company. But hey, Jefferson was a great president who accomplished great things for his country. He is remembered 200 years later for his business acumen, his brilliance, his personal talents.
Jefferson, the nation’s first secretary of state, second vice president and third commander-in-chief, singlehandedly designed his homestead of Monticello (note to all of you in the mountains: It’s pronounced Monti-CHELL-o), was a collector of books at a time when the printed word was a rarity, founded a university, and was the main author of the Declaration of Independence.
In 200 years from now, Mr. Trump will be remembered not for the messy way his travel ban was laid out or how many votes it took to replace Obamacare. His Twitter account will be a forgotten relic, archived in his presidential library for students of history and political science to access.
America has just gone through the quadrennial churn of a presidential election. Which sets me thinking: After a primary, all the candidates come together in unity to face the general election opponent. Why don’t the two parties come together in the same spirit following the general election?
Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were as apart as apart can be, as much, if not more, strikingly dissimilar in their views as Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Yet, they served together in the same Cabinet and worked as one for the success of the young country. Why would not a single Democrat embrace the values of his political forebear, Jefferson, and vote on the merits?
As the nation observes its 241st birthday, the cake and candles mark an era of seemingly intractable discord. There’s the “repeal now” vs. “single-payer” debate, travel ban vs. let ’em in, and the climate-change debate roiling America. Polls show supporters of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump remarkably sticking to their candidate.
But here’s what we have in common. Most of us prefer the current economic system over the deep socialist state boomeranging tragically on Venezuelans now. We want to keep out the religious strife which has heated up the Middle East for so many years. We want a government with not enough power to effect change so quickly that it can’t be rolled back if it isn’t supported by the majority of us.
The founders took a gamble with history by entrusting their democratic experiment in the hands of us, a motley group of fickle voters. The vast majority of us are ignorant of the issues. A good five percent of us vote for the name — any name — that happens to be on top of the ballot. About 15 percent vote for the guy who shook our hand. Some 30 percent go for whichever party they’ve been brought up on.
Yet, we have stood the test of time. It took some decades and a civil war until we settled on some untouchables — federal rights over state rights, liberty and voting for all, taxes on income, property, sales and a bunch of other things. But we got it right in the end.
We as Americans have ushered in the concept of democracy, mass production, the liberal proverb of a chicken in every pot, conquered the world’s worst illnesses, beat technological records again and again, and made the world safe for democracy. We invented the concept of innovation.
“Only in America” has come to mean saving 15 percent off car insurance, a black son of a Kenyan minister leading the world, and a grandchild of Holocaust survivors penning an ode to the works of Adams, Madison and Franklin.
As Jews, we owe America more than the average American. As Jews, we owe it to America to respect the office of the presidency. As Jews, we owe it to the president to pray for his success and the success of America. Whether we agree with his policies or not, the president is a symbol of our freedom to send our children to yeshivah and practice our religion in all its forms.
And as Jews, we owe America our loyalties. We owe America a fealty to its laws, rules and regulations. Halachah demands that.
So on this July Fourth, I salute the America of my dreams. And I add — America, you should’ve been 1,000 years older. The world would’ve been a better place.