The passions and divisive rhetoric of this presidential campaign have led me to reflect on what it means to be an American. What common traits are shared by all Americans, regardless of race, religion, national origin, and other distinctions? What is the glue that has held this country together for 240 years, allowing us to not only survive wars, depressions, and more, but to prosper like no other people in history?Our founding documents provide the answers. The most extraordinary political manuscripts ever written, the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution, laid the foundation for American Exceptionalism. The powerful ideals first expressed in these documents stood in stark contrast to the way people had been governed for centuries.Among these revolutionary ideals were that we are all endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights and that the government’s power derives “from the consent of the governed.” Our Constitution and the rule of law protected individual liberties from government overreach. Don’t forget that oppression by an overreaching government, England, led to the American Revolutionary War in the 1770s and our independence. The freedom won allowed Americans to express their rugged individualism, and encouraged a strong work ethic, free enterprise, entrepreneurship, and democracy. Freedom of speech, religion, and equal rights for all further defined the American culture.This unique culture drew millions of people to our shores. The United States became a melting pot in which race, religion, and national origin became secondary to one’s identity as an American. In just 150 years, we became the most prosperous country in the world. Never before in history has the ascendancy of a single country so benefitted not only its own citizens, but the rest of mankind.Self-government on such a large scale was a unique experiment in history, and our founders recognized its fragility. Thomas Jefferson warned that “eternal vigilance” was the price of liberty. Today, too many Americans take our freedoms for granted as just another entitlement. The primary importance of protecting our founding principles is being lost on successive generations a casualty of politically correct, revisionist history.Staunch defenders of our liberties are now made to feel shame by the prophets of progressive propaganda.So-called “transformational” leaders denigrate our history and achievements, and our common traits as Americans; they seek to divide us back into distinct and manipulable factions, along lines of race, religion, ethnicity, socio-economic station, political affiliation, gender, and sexual orientation. In their quest for self-serving power, these leaders brazenly ignore our constitution and laws. As a result, our federal government is becoming increasingly unaccountable and uncontrollable.Exercising Jefferson’s eternal vigilance by protecting and promoting America’s founding principles ought to be our great moral cause today. It is only by pulling together as one people citizens of the most productive and admired system of free enterprise ever that we can generate the economic growth necessary to eradicate poverty. It is only through the free and open exchange of ideas that we will drive human progress. It is only through equality under the law and a recognition of shared personal responsibility toward one another rather than dependence upon government that we can save the social compact that made this country unique. As Ronald Reagan warned, “Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on to the next generation to do the same.”Can Americans unite around our shared values in order to achieve a brighter future for everyone? To save our country, Americans must do more than just fly the flag and have picnics on holidays. This coming election will likely give us the answer as to whether we have become so complacent and dismissive of our founding principles that the great American experiment is now on its deathbed.Frank Dowd IV is chairman of Charlotte Pipe and Foundry Company, a 115 year-old U.S. manufacturer. Charlotte Pipe is proud to support 1,400 American middle class jobs and families and has not had a forced layoff of its workforce since 1982.
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