Opinion: Remembering ideals that’ve held us together

People line Roswell Street with their American flags during the Let Freedom Ring Parade in Marietta on Saturday, July 3, 2021. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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People line Roswell Street with their American flags during the Let Freedom Ring Parade in Marietta on Saturday, July 3, 2021. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The Editorial Board’s view.

As we take a much-needed break this holiday weekend to celebrate our nation’s independence, let’s ponder where we are now as a society – and where we’ve been, as well.

We realize that might be difficult, given all the short-term, modern-day static – tweets of this, Facebook posts of that – that dominate our attention.

All that noise leaves little, if any, time to process what it all means – or how the pieces fit together.

Perhaps this Fourth of July, you can find some time to consider the big picture.

Let’s start with the Declaration of Independence.

During these bitterly divided times, it might seem ironic to note that the second word in the Declaration of Independence is “unanimous.” As in the 13 original states expressing their intent to form a United States of America.

That optimistic concept seems bitterly quaint now.

Today’s chasms of division are far from the ideals for which Americans have persistently, if imperfectly, pushed toward – a nation providing liberty, justice and equal opportunity for all.

If allowed to fester too long, our current rancor and deeply destructive disputes can undermine the great, common pillars that have held together the American experiment.

With that in mind, it is worth re-reading the Declaration of Independence this weekend.

One of the most powerful sentences ever written remains: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Declaration’s reference to what is “the most wholesome and necessary for the public good” warrants our reflection this weekend – and far beyond. The same goes for Georgia’s state motto of “Wisdom, Justice, Moderation.”

Contemplating such words can help us better assess the rapid-fire shocks that weigh heavily on our nation and its states – be they controversial Supreme Court rulings or Congressional hearings that remind us of our fragile yet resilient democracy.

This weekend, it’s also time for us to reflect on how The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has used its “voice” over the years to capture the spirit of Independence Day – and to play our part in making our communities stronger.

This retrospective, we hope, symbolizes the fabric that has woven this great nation together.

And the challenges – and optimism – captured in each of these pieces remain relevant still this Independence Day.

The Editorial Board

From a July 2, 2017, editorial

Amidst the usual relaxation, travel and other pleasant festivities, it’s nearly impossible to fully escape an underlying, darker concern that the American experiment is now being strenuously pressure-tested.

That’s a natural sentiment, given the human tendency to live in the moment, with history’s lessons barely seen through a dim glass darkly. Such brings to mind Ben Franklin’s long-ago quip to a questioner who wondered just what kind of new government the Constitutional Convention called into existence: “A republic, if you can keep it,” Franklin responded.

The angry tenor of today’s everyday existence, daily events and ever-deeper partisan divides can make Franklin seem nearly a prophet.

We’ve been here before as a nation, and the republic survived just fine, thank you. Not without sacrifice, tumult or even bloodshed, but the American way has stubbornly endured. It’s likely to do so for a long time yet, if we remember all that, and think and behave in accordance with this nation’s highest ideals.

Independence Day should remind us that we’re still dependent on each other, whether we want to be or not.

From a July 7, 2013, editorial

There’s no doubt that this is a metro area consisting of strongly independent enclaves offering a wide array of lifestyles. And there are no regionally elected officials in our midst, unlike in some other cities that we’re normally compared with. That’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

It’s thus clear that independence is deeply revered around here. We would suggest, though, that interdependence should also have a substantial place in our civic life. A region this large is often faced with challenges likely best solved by cooperative effort on either a large, or small, scale. Not coercion, mind you, just smart collaborative work when there’s mutual benefit or efficiencies to be gained.

From a Nov. 11, 2012, editorial

As the nation struggles to find the right path ahead, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, a powerful symbol of one side of Washington’s partisan gulch, offered a hint of encouragement in calling for broad-based action to move the nation back from pending fiscal disaster. In a speech Wednesday that held firm to conservative tenets, Boehner nevertheless said: “Let’s challenge ourselves to find the common ground that has eluded us. Let’s rise above the dysfunction, and do the right thing together for our country in a bipartisan way.”

Really, we have no other choice. In an oft-quoted 1858 speech, Abraham Lincoln warned, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

We must stand in Georgia. We have fought too long for what we have gained to do anything else. We must stand as a nation, too, continuing to be that brightest of lights for an entire world.