We have a unique system of government. It began when we declared our independence from England on July 4, 1776.
As a people, we had become increasingly unhappy with leaders in England making decisions that affected our lives and our livelihoods.
Eventually, we were forced to a decision point: to fold under the tyranny of England or fight for liberty. As Patrick Henry so eloquently stated, "Give me liberty, or give me death."
Not content just to become independent, we also set up a new system of government, one that was and remains very different from others.
Our Declaration of Independence states: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
People — created equal, with rights given from God and a government that derives its power from the consent of the governed. This is drastically different from systems that are ruled by monarchs or dictators, or from systems under which the government holds the power and gives rights to the people.
People who have lived under other systems understand the exceptionalism of our system. A good friend of mine, Luis Haza — whose family fled Cuba after Raul Castro executed his father — understands the importance of liberty and freedom. Now a U.S. citizen who travels the world as an internationally renowned conductor and violinist, he truly believes that we live in the greatest country in the world.
He is not alone.
According to an ABC and Yahoo! News poll released Tuesday, 75 percent of Americans believe the United States is "the greatest country in the world." However, this belief has declined from 88 percent in 1984. The poll was conducted Oct. 13-20, among a random national sample of 1,025 adults.
Today, only 33 percent are optimistic about "our system of government and how well it works." This is much lower that it was in 1974. Americans' level of optimism was measured not long after President Richard Nixon resigned due to the Watergate scandal. At that time, 55 percent of Americans were optimistic about "our system of government and how well it works."
This change in optimism is not due to people moving to the pessimistic category, but rather to the uncertain category. About the same percent of Americans are pessimistic (20 percent) as have been historically. But more people, 46 percent, are "uncertain" about our system of government and how it's working. This is the highest percentage recorded by the poll.
Those uncertain or pessimistic were asked a follow-up question to determine if they thought the system of government or the people running government were the problem. An overwhelming majority, 74 percent, said the people running the government were the problem. The system of government was identified as culpable by 24 percent of Americans.
The good news is that, next week, we have the opportunity to replace those who are running a large portion of our government. All 435 congressional seats are up for election, 37 Senate seats, and 37 governors. Additionally, tens of thousands of local races are in play.
Now it's our turn to provide the consent of the governed.
As Americans exercise our right to vote, to choose our government, we also need to pass along the story, the reality of American exceptionalism. We have a different system: We believe in God, we believe our Creator gave us unalienable rights, we believe that we have the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
We were not promised healthcare, jobs, food stamps, or unemployment insurance. We were promised life, liberty, and the possibility of happiness in the future — that if we worked hard, that we might be able to achieve our dreams.
George Washington, whose appointment in 1775 as commander in chief of the Continental Army made him the only member of the army, understood how hard it was to birth a nation.
When he became president almost 13 years later, Washington felt the weight of proving that this experimental structure — government of the people — would work. He believed that we were not "made for a master," whether that master was the King of England or politicians in Washington.
Next week, we will have the opportunity to prove Washington right. Spread the word. Get out and vote.
Posts by Jackie Gingrich Cushman
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