We admit, we’re not feeling very patriotic this Independence Day weekend. Our sense of identity as Americans seems under assault. Our nation is more irreparably divided than ever before in our lifetime. Every single issue gets polarized and politicized. Nuance and complexity are nowhere to be found. Compromise is anathema. Instead, we have a pervasive, paralyzing cynicism that leaves us incapable of solving our biggest challenges. Our politics have poisoned everything, enabled by media echo chambers. The idea that there’s more that unites us than divides us has never seemed less true.
Our Constitution was created to counter the “tyranny of the majority” by subjecting legislative and executive actions to review by the judiciary. But what about the tyranny of the minority — the minoritarian stranglehold that is suffocating both our democracy and our trust in its institutions?
We are urgently in need of a new birth of tolerance in America: A welcoming acceptance of our diverse beliefs and viewpoints, a genuine respect for one another, and a collective commitment to the common good.
Tolerance is a concept as old as the Republic itself. The founders enshrined it in our most sacred documents, primarily as freedom of speech, the free exercise of religion, the separation of church and state, and the principle of equality.
In doing so, they set in motion what Darren Walker calls a “laboratory of liberty,” a “grand, complicated experiment with self-government that made possible abolition and suffrage, worker’s rights and civil rights and women’s rights, however slowly and unevenly. More astounding still, Black people and brown people, the Indigenous and the immigrant, L.G.B.T.Q. people and people with disabilities, all claimed the American project as our own and expanded the circle of inclusion and opportunity.”
This visionary inheritance from our founders, he argues, “provided us the tools to build a multiracial, multiethnic, pluralist democracy that extends the privilege of American identity to all its citizens.”
So what is our American identity without tolerance? More important, how else can we inform and inspire a common effort across our differences and find a way out of this vicious cycle than with greater tolerance?
We become more tolerant when we listen, with humility, curiosity and empathy — with open hearts and minds. We become more tolerant when we give to others the benefit of our doubt.
The America we love is under siege. But we still believe it’s worth saving, worth improving. The values and aspirations in our Declaration of Independence are as inspirational today as they were 246 years ago. Eleven years afterward, those values and aspirations were written into the Preamble to the Constitution:
“We the People…in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
What makes America great is not that our union is perfect but that we are in the process of making it more perfect. What makes the American people exceptional is not that we are flawless, but that we have the strength to acknowledge our failings and the courage to make wrong into right.
Our hearts may not be swelling with pride this weekend, but our love of country and our commitment to make it better endures.