Patriots, Education, and Ignorance (140 Characters at a Time)

A short time ago, I sat and listened to someone who has not had children in school for many years lament the state of education in America today. He said public schools—he lives in Georgia—were completely controlled by the left. Intrigued, I asked him why he thought that. “Believed” would have been a better word. In response, he asked, “you really don’t believe that?” I said I was simply asking why he thought it; I am a seeker of evidence. He then said they don’t teach civics or the Constitution anymore. They don’t talk about the Founding, our form of government, or highlight our exceptionalism. I assured him that they do in fact talk about those things; I do have children in the public schools. But then I told him that it seemed much the other way to me, given the assurances of my then-7th grader’s science teacher who told me they would talk about evolution in animals but not in humans. She was at a loss when I asked how he was to learn about that important detail. My companion in conversation could only offer the tired refrain, “well, it’s a theory.” Yes. Indeed it is. It is ironic, sitting as we were in an airplane, that aeronautics is also “just” a theory. It is defined by a set of equations that have never been fully solved. Yet there we were, looking for all the world to me like we were actually flying. I tried to suppress that conversation as I do with many others I have with those who state things that are demonstrably false or use words they do not understand. The 4th of July and reactions to public radio’s celebration of our Founding brought it all back.

National Public Radio has for some decades read the Declaration of Independence on the anniversary of its signing. This year they expanded their horizons to Twitter and tweeted the whole thing, 140 characters at a time, into the welcoming arms of the internet. Well, maybe the internet is not so welcoming of the defining document of self-governance and determination. The cyberverse erupted, unprovoked, in defense of our president. Apparently, many of his fans could not stand the similarities, highlighted in a 241-year-old document, between their man and King George III. I read the Declaration every year around the 4th, and I must admit, defenders of the president have a point. There are several passages that seem to apply to his authoritarian streak and his clear belief, highlighted again in a recent New York Times interview, that he is beyond the law.

“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.” Sure. That seems to fit. Self-dealing. Emoluments. The most egregious lack of business ethics in our history. “He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.” Well, allegedly. I’m sure the Congress will get to the bottom of it, knowing how true they are to their duty. If not them, then the special prosecutor. Unless the president fires him, as he again recently alluded to doing. “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.” There is that commission on voter fraud “harassing” [sic] our secretaries of state and demanding our personal information. He created a government entity to oversee dismantling the so-called administrative state. “For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:” Yes. He is working very hard on this one, and if the recent G20 summit is any sign, he will probably succeed beyond all expectation. The EU has a trade agreement with Asia that will encompass a full 40% of world trade, and the U.S. will be left out. Remember, he tore up the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership that would have cemented our foothold in that region and kept China at bay, because—say it with me—America First. “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us…” Look no further than the NRA’s latest public relations campaign for this one. Observe the rally violence he personally incited. Look at his own words in foreshadowing the possible assassination of his opponent as a means to shore up the Supreme Court and protect against a non-existent government run on our guns. And witness the President of the United States, in the first months of his term, going back again and again to adoring crowds at campaign rallies instead of trying to unite a deeply divided country or in any way speaking to the greater number of Americans who voted against him than voted for him.

There are two things interesting about this phenomenon. The first is that some Trump supporters see in the Declaration of Independence the behavior of a tyrant that is being mirrored in some of the actions of our current president. We know this because they spoke out against the “propaganda” NPR was spreading. They read the words of the Declaration and independently associated it with the character of the man they put in the most powerful office in the world. It would be funny if it was not so salient to the very fragile nature of the concepts stated in that seminal document. The irony and situational comedic effect would be inconsequential were it not for the second point. It is one that deals not with antiquity but with posterity, the potential of the country the Declaration bequeathed.

These are some of the same people who complain that our public education system is devoid of the vital civics lessons required to make us productive participants in our own governance. These are some of the people who say local communities know better about how to educate the future of our entire nation than does a federal program of standards. These are some of the people who claim the left has no appreciation for the concept of the Founding and who consistently question the patriotism of those who believe as much in social justice as personal responsibility. These are some of the people who want to control your children’s education. And these are the people who could not recognize the Declaration of Independence of the “united States of America” on the day set aside to commemorate that monumental event in the history of world. That, my friends, is simply astounding.

You should listen to NPR read or tweet what is perhaps the most important document ever conceived for the desired state of humankind. I urge you to read the Declaration often. Make a habit of doing it on the 4th of July every year. In it you will find a remarkable intellectual achievement by some of the brightest minds of their time. And if you happen to note a tinge of commentary on the current state of affairs, well, that is exactly what the primary author intended.