By Larry Szyman, Hudson

 

When the subject of American exceptionalism comes up, like many phrases in our day, they seem to be fighting words. Because much of our communication has been reduced to sound bites rather than thoughtful, respectful, heartfelt dialogue, we tend to react rather than relate.

I believe America is exceptional. I have believed it through all of my adult life and I hope I can say that I can hold this to be true till the day I die. Whether I will or not remains to be seen.

To say America is exceptional is not to say that we are flawless and that there is no room for regret or rehabilitation. Anyone who will humbly look at our past or present finds great opportunity for improvement. Increased diligence and charity are called for as we seek to gain greater access to all to the opportunities afforded every man, woman and child in the constitution. I know that in my personal and family life there has been seasons to rejoice in and regret, and this is true for our nation as well. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, rejoicing in what has worked well and correcting that which needs to be shored up.

Here is one item that makes us exceptional: the durability of our Constitution.

Thomas Ginsburg of the University of Chicago law school along with others studied every major constitutional change in every independent state since 1789 (when the U.S. Constitution was ratified). They discovered that national constitutions had an average lifespan of 17 years. America's 230-year-old Constitution has lasted 13 times longer than the average. That is exceptional and to be celebrated.

How long it perseveres will be the result of how we steward the glorious freedoms offered to us by the Constitution. These gifts must be handled well in order to secure a more perfect union.

Take the First Amendment, for example. In addition to the promises of religious freedom and press, the people have the right to free speech and to assemble. These freedoms will result in societal health to the degree we employ them helpfully.

I want to encourage all who inhabit the St. Croix Valley to use their freedom of expression for the good of all, toward a more perfect union. When you see an act of goodwill, praise it. When you see something that hurts others, call it out-not self-righteously, but for the good of others.

We can celebrate and recalibrate at the same time: we can walk and chew gum. In policing ourselves we exalt liberty and avoid becoming a police state.

We need to change as we celebrate. In hearing these lyrics on the Fourth, I saw a connection between law and liberty, humanity and divinity.

 

America! America!

God mend then every flaw

Confirm thy soul, in self control

Thy liberty in law.

 

By taking full charge of our liberty of speech with self-control and seeking the welfare of all we discover law and liberty are not enemies, but partners. For America to remain and increase as an exceptional nation, we must guard not only our freedoms, but the freedoms of our neighbor. We also must use our freedoms with self-control, considering others in the equation. We must walk and chew gum at the same time.

Two hundred and thirty years into this trial there is much to rejoice in and much to learn and adjust. May we do both well toward a more perfect union.