On the Key Ingredient of American Greatness
Here’s what we remember: 244 years ago, 56 men from across 13 Colonies committed treason.
They came together -- despite political uncertainty, personal reservation and the very real fear of arrest and execution -- to declare that “these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.”
This Indepence Day we remember that, in doing so, they not only committed themselves to an uncertain revolution. They rang a bell that would echo across the world and through generations to this moment where a 35-year-old grandson of sharecroppers considered his own place in that storied history.
Let me explain.
If you took a drive along Interstate 26 East toward Charleston around the time of the South Carolina Democratic Party presidential debate in February, you probably saw a billboard from my leader, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, reading “Making America’s greatness accessible and affordable for ALL.”
He and I have had many conversations about what those words mean for him, what they mean for me, what they mean for our respective generations and, most importantly, what they mean for this experiment we call America. You see, America’s greatness isn’t found in an immaculate conception or because our Founders were divine and perfect. It’s just the opposite. Our Founders were mortal and imperfect, just like us. But, recognizing that mortality, they created a nation that could grow beyond them and correct their mistakes.
They created a nation ruled not by a king or queen, but the people...a nation where all of us were created equal…a more perfect union. That’s what makes America great.
Now, let’s agree that this more perfect union is still young and our greatness has not always been accessible or affordable to all. But, as we unlock America’s greatness for all, we become even more perfect.
We talk about health care, education, infrastructure and job creation not because they’re election year buzzwords, but because they are the foundation upon which American greatness is built. How can we be the land of the free and home of the brave when our people are poor, when a doctor’s visit could mean bankruptcy and our schools are falling down? What’s American about crumbling roads and poisoned rivers? What’s American about denying other Americans the right to vote?
Some 25 million people lack affordable broadband in this nation while 15 million don’t have any internet access at all, three individuals own more wealth than the bottom half of all Americans and one out of every three black men will spend at least part of their lives in prison.
How is that American?
In my home state of South Carolina, well over 300,000 people don’t have health insurance because our governor refuses to expand Medicaid while one in every three children are born to mothers who received little to no prenatal care. How is that American?
How can we be a free people when we allow some Americans to win elections by denying other Americans the right to vote?
You see, at this distance, it’s easy to imagine that our independence was certain. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we were always going to win that war and that freedom -- real freedom -- was predestined. But it wasn’t.
America’s birth was the result of a difficult labor and the breaths of her life have never been easy. That’s why, after 244 years, we still call our republic a “great experiment.”
But we’ve always had one thing going for us. No matter what trial we had to endure or what obstacle lay before us, we have always found strength to overcome it in one another -- a people beholden not to royalty or aristocracy, but to each other.
To that we pledge not only our vote, but our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.