Our View | Independence, Warts and All

Our View

Editor’s note: The following is a reprint of a Signal editorial published July 4, 2020:

By The Signal Editorial Board

Today we celebrate our nation’s independence, our freedom and a 244-year-old declaration that all men are created equal.

What that really means has evolved in time, as it should have. If we were writing the declaration of independence in 2020, we’d say all humans, of all races, of all genders, are created equal.

History is about change, and our nation has undergone a fair share of it in those 244 years — some of it positive, some of it not, and some of it, not yet enough.

We love this country, and are grateful for all who have fought and died to protect the freedoms we enjoy today — in particular, our First Amendment rights to free speech. 

Yet those rights are under attack. With today’s “cancel culture,” you have to say what the mob wants you to say, or you will be fired, or boycotted. The concept of a peaceful exchange of ideas seems lost on many.

The canceling culture has been deployed to eliminate diversity of thought, and if you don’t agree, you will be cancelled. 

That same culture is even seeking to cancel our history, tearing down statues of figures like Columbus, Roosevelt, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln — who issued the Emancipation Proclamation — and even Grant, who fought to free slaves and preserve the Union. 

People are flawed. So is history. We should learn from it, not cancel it. Is it reasonable to rename a military base, replacing a Confederate officer’s name with one who fought on the side of the Union? Absolutely. Is it reasonable to rethink the text on historic monuments’ plaques, to add 21st-Century context and acknowledge the changes that have occurred since those periods of history? Sure.

But simply tearing down our history through mob rule is no way to learn.

There have even been calls to obliterate the monument at Mount Rushmore. The New York Times published a commentary quoting critics who say Mount Rushmore is a racist monument because of the presidents it memorializes and because the land historically belonged to the Lakota tribe of Native Americans.

The commentary even noted that the sculptor who was chosen to carve the presidents’ faces into Mount Rushmore had ties to the Ku Klux Klan. The writers quoted several sources who believe it should be closed or torn down, and also others who acknowledged the flawed nature of our history and its figures, but believe the monument should stand. 

Closing the monument is not the answer. For better or for worse, it’s part of our shared history. A more reasoned approach would be to call for an update to the Mount Rushmore visitor’s experience, with the addition of more exhibits and educational materials that take an unblinking look at the history of the monument, and both the strengths and flaws of the men it memorializes.

To take the critics’ logic to the extreme, one could then argue that the New York Times building in Manhattan should be destroyed. After all, Manhattan was basically stolen from the Native Americans — estimated purchase price, the equivalent of $24 — and a co-founder of the New York Times once wrote an editorial defending the rights of slave owners to reclaim slaves who had escaped to New York.

But no one is suggesting the Times should abandon its building and return it to the descendants of the indigenous people who owned the land hundreds of years ago.

Where does this stop?

One of our country’s founding principles was that you are responsible for your own deeds, not the acts (or debts) of your father.

We urge everyone to take a step back, take a deep breath and remember the Declaration of Independence. Remember why the colonies broke away from the king of England. Remember what our soldiers fought for, in that war and the wars since.

We should remember the lessons of our history, with all its flaws, and embrace the lessons to be learned from the history being created even today, as we celebrate the birth of our great but imperfect nation.

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