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Matthew Stokes: Show some gratitude for our country’s legacy

This year the 4th of July comes at an uncertain time.

Our television sets and social media have been inundated with news of separated immigrant families, which have in turn led to a national shouting match over drug cartels, open borders, the rule of law and crying toddlers.

Administration officials have been hounded out of restaurants while administration supporters have in turn engaged in harassment of the restaurants in question, as well other, similarly named establishments. A noted Democratic Congresswomen has called for continued direct action (a nice leftwing euphemism to obnoxious harassment) of Trump administration officials, while the President himself has warned “Be careful what you wish for!”  

All of this as the nation celebrates its founding, and reflects back upon the shared values enshrined in the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. If we have ever needed a day to turn off the news and gather with friends and neighbors for food, drink, sports, and fireworks, this is it.

An honest assessment of the Founding period will note that many of the colonists were, to put it mildly, rowdy.  Tarring and feathering was much worse than asking someone to leave your restaurant, even if the latter is tacky and rude.  The Boston Massacre was the result of riled up Bostonians, and the British soldiers who fired the fatal shots were mostly acquitted thanks to the legal defense of future US President John Adams.  

Nevertheless, the founding generation understood that a certain degree of civility was necessary for life in a democracy. In a nod to what we might today recognize as a form of diversity, the founders believed in a robust civil life wherein every citizen was free to peacefully hold and express ideas in accordance with their conscience.  

Of course some will immediately point that the founding has severe limitations on who could qualify as a citizen, though I would note that subsequent generations did not overturn the logic of the founders in rethinking citizenship and suffrage for former slaves, women and other minorities, but instead built upon the thought of Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson, and others.

As for as incivility is concerned, there is more than enough blame to go around, as both left and right behave like toddlers in the church nursery.  (“He hit me!” “She took my goldfish!”) Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters applauded protestors who hounded Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen out of a Washington, DC restaurant.  

To her credit, Nancy Pelosi tried to calm things down a bit, but plenty of online activists applauded this direction action, as well as the successful efforts to remove White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders from a Virginia restaurant.  Beyond that, in recent days footage has surfaced of protestors outside the home of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, with protestors close enough for the situation to have easily gotten out of hand. Most troubling is the young man accused of threatening to kill the family of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

As I said, the blame isn’t one-sided.  Indeed, there’s an argument to be made that the greater share of blame lies on the political right.  That’s because the problems on the right don’t stem from street activists, student protestors or cranky members of Congress.  The chief antagonist on the right-wing is the President himself. Donald Trump has spent the better part of three years lashing out at his opponents in ways that play to the understandable frustrations of parts of the Republican base but are unseemly on the part of the president himself.  

There are numerous instances of Trump suggesting violence towards protestors and the media, in the latter case going so far as to refer to the media as “the enemy of the people.” You won’t find me arguing that Trump is a dictator, but if I may split hairs for a minute, that is language that should cause all citizens to say “Wait a sec…”  

It may be exciting for the base to hear the President push back but our nation has had a long-standing norm against this sort of behavior on the part of the chief executive. We all know this to be true in our own lives. There are things that the head man (or woman, of course) simply cannot say out loud, because it creates a culture that trickles down throughout the organization.  In politics that organization extends beyond actual employees to voters themselves, and the President has obligation to the nation to reign in this rhetoric. (This argument was well chronicled by Jonathan V. Last  in a June 26 piece in the Weekly Standard).

I realize that many readers will circle back and cite all the ways in which liberals and Democrats have done the same thing.  I agree. I recall what happened to Robert Bork. I remember the infamous James Byrd ad used against George W. Bush. I remember Joe Biden telling an audience of African-Americans that Republicans wanted to put them back in chains.  I remember 2012 Obama campaign suggesting that Mitt Romney was the second coming of Nero when in fact he was probably the nicest man ever nominated for president of our country. I get all of it – but someone has to be the adult here.  

Stop harassing people in restaurants. Stop leaving bad online reviews. Don’t protest outside someone’s home. Don’t yell profanity at the President or any politician. Instead, vote.

Read the news, and lots of it from a wide variety of sources.  Talk to your friends and neighbors. And this year, spend Independence Day enjoying food and drink, sports and family without any concern for owning the liberals or pushing back against the right. Take a day to celebrate to America and work to strengthen her bonds of civility.  

This year it is the best way show gratitude for the legacy we have inherited.

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