It’s Independence Day.
While it’s a great time to celebrate our country’s founding and enjoy the food, family and fun, it’s also a good time to take a few minutes to reflect on the ideals of our founders, as well as what it means to maintain our republic — and our freedoms.
In the past, we haven’t always lived up to the ideals espoused in our founding documents. Equality hasn’t always been (and still isn’t, in some cases) respected for “all.” Additionally, we have hiccups in our efforts to provide for a “more perfect Union” and the “general Welfare” of our citizens.
However, we’ve long prized the idea that no one person should have too much power and that an educated citizenry should be the foundation of our government. Checks and balances, with a representative legislature checking the power of the executive, are essential to the proper functioning of our republic. The ability of an executive to veto unjust laws made by a legislative body overreaching is also important — as is the ability of an independent judiciary to strike unjust laws that don’t reflect the values in our Constitution.
All of this is important. But still more important is the role we play as citizens. As citizens, it’s up to us to provide ultimate oversight of our government. In recent years, politicians have sought to choose their own voters through gerrymandering and limit the people’s ability to legislate through ballot initiative. In some states, politicians even seek to limit First Amendment expression through law.
In such an environment as this, it’s important to pay attention. The last few decades saw an expansion of rights to more people — an important step in actually living our ideals. However, the last few years seem to be moving in reverse. Entrenched politicians and others seem more interested in holding onto power and influence and less interested in representing their constituents’ interests.
We see it even here in Idaho, where our Legislature feels they can ignore the will of the people without consequences, with officials smugly secure in the idea that they’ll just be elected again next time — no matter how careless they are with taxpayer dollars and no matter if their policies hurt their constituents.
If we want to preserve our freedoms, we must pay attention and vote. And we can’t vote based on labels or promises. Instead, we have to look at what our representatives are actually doing. Do they associate with other leaders who value our ideals of democracy and freedom for citizens? Do they take into account what offers the most freedom for the most people? Do they uphold the First Amendment — which is the first for a very good reason?
As citizens, if we don’t start paying attention now, and look at how we’re represented, and start voting based on people and policies, rather than labels and parties, the Fourth of July could no longer be a reflection of our freedoms and could, before we know it, simply be a day of spectacle and lip service without any true grounding in our long-held values.