Ampersand

Democracy Refresher

By TOM MEREDITH | Jan 15, 2020

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to visit Williamsburg, Va., with friends. This was a return visit for me since my father insisted on a family visit there years ago while on a trip to Florida to visit relatives. My wife had never been, so it was a great opportunity for her to get some firsthand living history exposure.

Given the high level of political turmoil we are assaulted with daily by our media, I thought it would be a good opportunity to remember why our system of government is still the best solution to manage the inherent weaknesses of groups of people beyond two in size.

Aside from seeing how much daily life has changed, there were many opportunities to revisit the purities of intent and the complexities of thought our forefathers had. Contrary to what many may think, we did not create a completely new form of government. We used the Magna Carta as a base and molded a system to best fit our needs of the day. English law is the firm bedrock of our legal system. In the beginning, there were four branches of government: executive, judicial, legislative, the church. The colonists removed religion from the equation and included more individual rights and liberties.

As our country has grown and developed, we have faced many serious challenges in humanitarian, economic and political arenas. Most of these issues are self-inflicted, but also self-corrected.

I have for some time been concerned over the way our history is being taught or not taught in our schools and how quickly we can forget the lessons we have learned through mistakes by former generations. I think it a useful reminder to note that one of our largest stains, slavery, did not begin in America. It actually got here by accident. Slavery had been practiced throughout Europe for many years before English privateers licensed by the king accosted and took possession of a Portuguese ship and diverted its course to America. Upon arrival these privateers sold the human cargo as livestock to local growers as a source of inexpensive labor to grow and harvest crops, thus increasing profits. When we finally realized owning human beings was an excruciating wrong and against our very founding principles, we put an end to it.

The period of time we allowed, even encouraged, slavery to be practiced, though dark indeed, must never be forgotten. It existed, was wrong and was corrected.

The Indian Wars, the Holocaust, the Civil War, Prohibition, McCarthyism, the Cold War, World War I, World War II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam – these are just a few of our less-than-proud moments.

If our schools are unable or unwilling to teach our American history fairly and objectively, I believe it is up to us to take a page from the Native American culture and begin an oral history of our country to be passed down to younger generations while the people with the knowledge and experience of events are still living.

When people take the time to read and research a period of history, there is still much information available if you look for it. When you absorb the information through the mindset of the time period and not the filter of today’s society, you can often understand more clearly the reasons why so many things perceived today as evil took place through the simple weaknesses of people, brought on typically by ignorance and greed.

American has so much greatness in its past and future. If we remember the bad along with the good, it will better prepare us to continue to grow. You can never eradicate the law of unintended consequences – that is why it exists in the first place – but you must at least try. We can remove some of the mind-numbing emotion of political dialogue by remembering what went before and the results. This can help us identify a better way to proceed in solving a situation. We will never be mistake free, but we can at the very least make new mistakes to learn from.

Knowing is better than not knowing, even if what you know is uncomfortable.

Tom Meredith lives in Little Egg Harbor.

 

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