On September 17, 1787, they drafted a great living document called the Constitution. It was not lost on them that no government lasted forever, and that even the greatest ideas became oppressive when the people they governed changed. The Constitution was unique in that it could be changed. It would be changed. As new things became acceptable and new threats became known, the ultimate law of the land would be adapted. The only thing the Constitution would guarantee as being supreme for its citizens was the right to do what you want without interference from others or interfering with them. This was its fundamental core, and it was made official less than a year later.
While the history of the United States and the Constitution is filled with pride and heroism and wonder, it also has a very dark, very tragic side. That core philosophy, of doing what you want without interference or interfering, got lost as the Founding Fathers fell away and others who didn't understand the importance of their creation took over. People always have a tendency to think they know what is best in life, usually using their own experiences as proof. "Hey, this worked for me, why won't it work for you?" We get lazy and assume our experiences are absolute, and anyone who disagrees Just Doesn't Get It.
And now, as usual with me, a quick analogy: one of my cousins, it turns out, is a clinical depressive, and he has to take meds every day to keep the demons at bay. My dad lately has been coming to me to ask questions about things beyond his experience, and he wanted to know about depression. I quoted John Blake's speech about people reacting to those who are depressed, and how the thinking changes from, "That poor dear," to "Why doesn't he just get over it?" My dad nodded, saying that that was what he thought depression was -- something you turned off like a light, "you pulled up your Big Boy pants, and got moving." He was now seeing in my cousin that it didn't work that way, and he didn't know what to say, what to do, what to feel. My perspective and thought process, which for years he felt was unnecessary and out of touch, was a lighthouse to sail his ship by, and the two are close family now.
I bring this up because my dad's experiences are American politics writ large. A lot of rights are guaranteed by the Constitution, and it's a tribute to the American people that conflict didn't arise much in those early days. But people get complacent. They fall into a rhythm, a pattern of behavior. And when that pattern changes, when some people are no longer happy with the status quo, those that are don't react with a shrug, but with indignation. "Everything's fine! Why do you have to change it?!?"
It's a lesson that is taught time and time again, but never learned. This came to a head in 1920 when the 18th Amendment to the Constituion, which banned alcohol sales in the US and took away rights instead of protecting them, came into power. Under the misguided idea that you could legislate morality, the 18th Amendment gave rise to the mob as a social power in the US and people looking at the government as The Enemy instead of The Protector. Although it ended with the 21st Amendment in 1933, the damage had been done, not just to the public's trust in government, but also to the idea of what the government was supposed to be.
As I write this, marriage equality has become the law of the land, and there are people bleating that they are losing their rights as things like this happen. But they aren't losing their rights. These rights have always been there, but social behavior has prevented them from being extended to everyone, and the idea that, as George Orwell put it, some are more equal than others became the default. Molly Ivins once wrote that American history can be seen as one long effort to extend the rights granted in the Constitution to everybody, from women to gays to minorities to everyone. And she was right. The greatest conflict come when the only reason for things to be allowed to happen is simple fairness, but those in charge don't want that for whatever reason. Some base it on philosophy, like religion. Some base it on misunderstanding. And some just don't to deal with diversity, they want a singular, homogenized populous so that they don't have to consider anything other than their own preferences and biases.
On this great day, we are to remember that it is up to us, We the People of the United States, to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. It is what makes America different, it is what makes America great. We are our country, and it is only as good as we are.