Dispatches from the Creation Wars

The premise of Glenn Beck’s rally was “restoring America’s honor.” So these folks went around asking those who attended when exactly America lost its honor.

Here’s my answer: America hasn’t lost anything. We are today what we have always been, a nation of people that proclaims a set of very audacious ideals to the rest of the world and only sometimes lives up to them. It isn’t any worse today than it was in years past; in fact, it’s better — but only because the forces of progress won previous battles for liberty and equality.

The ideals of the Declaration of Independence — freedom for all and equality under the law in particular — were quite audacious at the time they were handed down, so revolutionary and so far ahead of their time that the very men who signed that document could not come close to living up to them. Those ideals were only partially believed, and rarely practiced, even by those who offered them up to the world.

Those ideals were obviously ignored while we were enslaving, torturing and killing so many Africans for nearly 80 years after the ink dried on that document. They were ignored while the descendants of those slaves were segregated, oppressed and denied their civil rights for another century after slavery was ended.

Those ideals were ignored while we denied women the right to vote, to be educated, to join the workplace as equals with men. They were ignored while we invaded other nations and installed and propped up brutal dictators in them, tyrants who killed and tortured their own people as we looked away because they were good for business and did our bidding internationally.

Our fathers and grandfathers, and their fathers and grandfathers, did not honor those ideals while behaving with such barbarism and bigotry. We today do not honor them while denying equality to gays and lesbians, or while engaging in xenophobic bigotry against Muslims.

But in all of those situations, the forces of progress called upon those ideals to fuel their movements. Martin Luther King, standing on that same site 47 years ago, called the Declaration of Independence a promissory note that had come due. In each instance where there is progress in applying the promises of liberty and equality more fully, we return again to those ideals for that very reason.

Those principles provide the solid base from which we have launched assault after assault against discrimination and oppression. America fully has its honor only insofar as we live up to those ideals. America hasn’t lost its honor, it is the same as it always was, partially living up to our own declared principles and partially failing. And the more we live up to them, the closer we come to that illusive place of honor.

Glenn Beck isn’t going to do a damn thing to help in that effort. He’s on the side of regress, not progress. He’s a carnival barker on the political midway, selling a product — fear — to an eager public. For him, the notion of honor is just a marketing slogan, something flashy with which to fleece the rubes and keep the money flowing.

But the rest of us must continue the fight for freedom and equality because in extending those ideals to others, we provide them more fully and more meaningfully to ourselves. In extending those promises where they should have applied in the first place, we reinforce our shared humanity, the thing that Martin Luther King fought for so bravely.