Tonawanda News

July 3, 2013

DUVALL: This Independence Day, take the long view of history

By Eric DuVall
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — As we approach the annual summer celebration of our nation’s founding with a round of hot dogs, beer, fireworks and a day off from work I thought it might be beneficial to take a look back in history as a guide for how to interpret some of today’s thornier political issues.

Something of a cottage industry has popped up in trying to diagnose and fix what seems to be a polarizing political environment that produces little by way of tangible results and even fewer things everyone doesn’t dislike.

The U.S. House of Representatives can’t seem to agree on much besides renaming the nation’s post offices. Seriously, if you look at the congressional record renaming post offices dominates legislation that passes the House these days. Pretty soon we’re going to run out of post offices — or the entire postal service, for that matter — and then congressmen are going to have to move onto naming new official U.S. things. Do we have an official tree? A particularly patriotic insect or agricultural commodity? 

I have a feeling we’ll find out soon enough.

Let’s take a trip back to our nation’s infancy. Everyone more or less seemed to like George Washington. He was a respected, nonpolarizing figure and just the sort of guy we needed to ensure our nation’s first president wasn’t removed at musket-point a few weeks after taking office by the second president.

After Washington it went downhill rather quickly in the camaraderie department. 

John Adams, our second president was rather famously at odds with his successor, Thomas Jefferson. They said things about each other — and to each other — that would make Sean Hannity blush (assuming he’s still warm-blooded). 

And so we fast-forward to July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after Jefferson, Adams a bunch of other white guys we’ve all but forgotten and John Hancock with his crazy John Hancock, signed the Declaration of Independence.

It wasn’t a particularly happy Independence Day for either Jefferson or Adams. 

They both died.

In a cruel twist of fate for the less-appreciated Adams, his final words were (reportedly) “Jefferson lives!”

Geez, obsessed much?

This being the age before Twitter celebrity death rumors, Adams didn’t know Jefferson had died earlier that day. Not only was Adams wrong, he was unnecessarily spiteful. Too bad you can’t get a do-over on your last words on Earth.

So as we sit and contemplate the greatness and not-so-greatness of American society and long for the old days when things were so much purer in patriotic spirit, remember: We actually had a founding father whose dying words were a vengeful, petty, self-immolating barb directed at a political opponent.

This stuff is in our nation’s DNA.

Despite all the bitter political disputes they had a decent track record. All that in-fighting came with defeating the British, losing to the Canadians, beating the Spanish, settling the West and laying the groundwork for the first democracy the world has ever known to grow into a superpower 100 years or so down the road.

Not too shabby.

Similarly, despite what we today prefer to think of as the most intensely partisan government in our nation’s history, over the last few years we’ve managed to end two wars, expand health care to nearly all Americans, avoid another Great Depression and not lose any wars to Canada. Heck, we don’t even let them win the Stanley Cup anymore. 

Score one for 21st century America!

If we’re lucky, by this time next year we might even be able to expand the American dream to a new generation of immigrants whose descendants will, a century from now, happily sit here yammering about how big a blight illegal immigrants are on our country.

Independence Day is good for many things. Best of all, it is an opportunity to engage in genuine reflection on what it means to be an American.

And if you take the long view, it’s pretty darn impressive.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.