The Great American Experiment has been a work in progress for the past 246 years. As a nation we have experienced many highs, lows, successes, and failures. “We The People” have played a national long game that includes overcoming wars, economic depressions, and bitter internal divisions that eventually led brother to fight brother. But we always prevailed. As a nation “WE” have always overcome “ME” and “we” moved on to the next challenge and the next opportunity. The Great Experiment continues. But things seem different these days for many Americans.
The past few years this Great American Experiment has been “stress” tested by a global pandemic that unexpectedly upended many of our established structures and exacerbated existing inequalities. Coupled with global events, like the war in Ukraine, world-wide inflation, and supply chain disruptions, I think it’s important that we take a moment, particularly on this Independence Day, to reflect on our Great American Experiment. In these highly partisan times, Independence Day should be a time that we reflect on our common purpose and shared American values, rather than things that may harshly divide us.
Two of our greatest founding fathers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, rarely agreed on much, but they did agree that democracy was the core of what made us great as a nation. Adams believed in a strong federal government; Jefferson disagreed and believed that the states should hold the power of the people. They disagreed, they argued, they bickered in public but when it came time to do what was best for the nation they acted, they compromised, they found solutions.
As a nation we still struggle with this balance of power, but it has not stopped our nation from moving forward and accomplishing many great things. While it may seem that our political polarization is worse than ever today, it is useful to look back at our nation’s history and remember that our government was set up to incorporate and withstand opposing views by individuals who had fundamentally divergent views on how our Great American Experiment should unfold.
Today it is clear to see that we have stopped talking constructively and stopped appreciating how our vast and diverse opinions can strengthen the fabric of our communities to propel us collectively forward as a nation. Instead most people find themselves in an echo chamber of the political ideology they ascribe to. It has become commonplace to be surrounded by the news we want to hear, the people who validate our opinions instead of challenging them.
We hear, but sometimes we just don’t listen.
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson may not have agreed on much, but as individuals bound by a shared love of the nation they built together and its future they continued to communicate. They wrote letters to one another until their deaths on July 4, 1826. The letters captured their differences, but also their shared humanity, trust, respect, and dedication to keep asking the tough questions.
Like Adams and Jefferson we must discuss tough questions. What do you want your community experience to be in the coming years? How does that align with where we are today? Reopening the dialogue with each other is essential for us to stop the fraying and to rebuild the trust and respect that is needed to make progress at the local, state, and national levels. There is so much we can agree on.
For example, in light of the recent mass shootings and gun violence across America, there have been serious and deliberate bipartisan efforts to find common ground and work productively together. This happened recently with the U.S. Congress passing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. It’s important to note that this is the most significant gun and public safety legislation that has been passed by Congress in the last thirty years. Hopefully, in Alabama, we can continue in that spirit and do what it takes to make our communities, our homes, and our schools safer for everyone.
This type of bipartisanship and cooperation gives me hope for our Great American Experiment this Independence Day. I believe that we can learn to listen again and work together toward finding common ground without sacrificing our core American values.
The Great American Experiment is always evolving, and it is up to each one of us to think about how we want the next chapter of this experiment to go. We must be grateful that in this country we have a voice, we have a choice, and we have a vote. When we work together, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.