“The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” — Thomas Jefferson
When you stand under the dome at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC you can read these words, “I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Jefferson was directly addressing those who would take the religious freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution to roll out a national religion. Simply put, it wasn’t going to happen on his watch.
The United States has gone through waves of fervor since Jefferson’s watch ended: religious, philosophical, political. We’re going through it right now with half the country aligned with one particularly autocratic clown and the other half holding out hope that the rule of law and concept of equality and freedom for all should survive the latest chapter of zealotry and anger. Time will tell, friends.
The thing is, it’s our watch now—certainly for citizens of this country of voting age, but in many ways the global community as well. Look around at the rise of autocracy and extremism in the world. This is a pendulum swing into uncomfortable places. How things go from here is up to each of us. Many more voices of reason to temper the extremists on either side would greatly benefit society. Some of us believe that we’re all in this together, and some choose us versus them. I’m not naive enough to ignore the threat from some dark corners of the world, but in general a bit of creative diplomacy would solve the bulk of our collective problems, both at the dinner table and on a global scale.
I wish more people would be hostile to tyranny, but most people are simply trying to get through the day. The lessons of history are clear enough though, when we pay attention to them. It’s a lot easier to clean up a small mess than a big one. Momentum works for and against us, and it’s still uncertain just how far that pendulum is going to swing.