Words matter, none more than these

"Don’t tell me that words don’t matter. ‘I have a dream.’ Just words. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ Just words. ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Just words."
— Barack Obama, in 2008, countering Hillary Clinton’s criticism of his campaign

Candidate Obama reminded us eloquently of the importance, power and meaning of words.

And few words are more important, powerful and meaningful than those of this country’s founders.

Some of my favorite phrases from those documents include:

From the Declaration of Independence:
* “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…”
* “…with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

From the Constitution:
* “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity …”

And, of course, the First Amendment — which is perhaps the most important written passage in human history, as it contains the most urgent, basic and sweeping of human rights:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

As the man said, words do matter. And no words in secular society matter more than our founding documents and the body of law that has grown up around them.

This country was founded on the rule of law, not men. So words — the words of the Constitution and of our laws — matter. A country that is founded on words, and not on ethnicity or the force of a ruler, must respect and adhere to those words.

You cannot understand America otherwise.

Nor can the country endure without it.

— Michael Ryan, Executive Director, ROAR

What is the opposite of boring?

The word “civics” just sounds boring. Especially for anyone who had a less-than-dynamic civics teacher in school.

Guilty as charged! My civics teacher was so boring that an artistically gifted classmate and I drew up a Clark Kent/Superman style cartoon of him — figuring, wryly, that his bespectacled dry-guy routine just had to be an act, a cover for a superhero in disguise.

The truth, as I’ve learned through the years, is that civics is the furthest thing from boring. Civics is how we order our collective lives, how we agree to live near each other while respecting our individual freedom to live as we wish.

Technically, civics is defined as “The branch of political science that deals with civic affairs and the rights and duties of citizens.”

But a more practical definition is:

* a working knowledge of our system of self-governance and free markets
* an appreciation for the value of our system, especially as compared to socialism and communism
* a private-public life balance

The key to understanding civics is to understand that we even HAVE a public life.

What is a public life? Three things as well:

* an awareness of history, current events and people in power
* a mature belief system – knowing what you believe
* applying that knowledge and belief system in your community and country

Civics is about doing your part to breathe life into self-governance — being a responsible, self-reliant but benevolent citizen. It’s about how we interact. It’s about preserving as much of our freedom as we can while establishing rules we can all live by.

In a free country, civics is creating the kind of world we want, and then taking it out for a spin.

How can anyone possibly make that boring?

— Michael Ryan, Executive Director, ROAR

Citizenship: It can’t just be handed off

Americans are among the most compassionate on Earth. That’s why arms, homes and wallets have opened up around the country for illegal immigrant children who have swarmed the southern border in the hope of a good life.

But America is more than place on a map that happens to be doing better than most around the world.

America is an idea, a set of principles, a way of life. Such things aren’t picked up by osmosis, even for natives. They must be taught and learned over years. Such things as the link between freedom and responsibility. The rule of law. Self-respect, and respect for others. Self-reliance and hard work. Private property rights — without which none of these other things matter.

Yes, America is a great melting pot — the most wonderful in history. Yet, you can’t make someone American by picking him up and plopping him down here — any more than you can make someone British that way.

This is why, even in the most diverse, welcoming nation in history, there is something called a “naturalization process.” Hint: It’s not about how to just get here.

Citizenship, native or naturalized, is a process. It’s an involved one, filled with solemn obligations.

Being American appears easy on the outside. Far from it. As with a duck’s feet, there’s a lot going on under the surface.

Citizenship is not something you can just give away, or be handed after landing like a lei in Honolulu.

If only Americans, and future Americans, respected that more.

— Michael Ryan, Executive Director, ROAR

Honey, they’re playing our song

Every couple in love seems to have their special song. Countries too. They’re called anthems. But did you know America had none until 1931?

What couple would wait that long?

Besides how hard it is to sing, what else do you know about the “Star Spangled Banner”?

Some cool facts from Wikipedia:

* It was first a poem by Francis Scott Key, written not in the Revolutionary War but in the War of 1812. Key was a temporary prisoner on a British ship, on a diplomatic mission during the bombardment of Fort McHenry, when he began the poem on the back of a letter, later calling it “Defence of Fort M’Henry.”

* The song grew in popularity and use through the decades, including when President Wilson ordered it performed at military occasions and such in 1916.

* Some baseball teams had already begun playing it at games, but its performance during the 7th-inning stretch at the 1918 World Series popularized the marriage of the national pastime with the future National Anthem.

* Believe it or not, it took “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!” to take note of the odd fact that the United States was officially anthemless. Two years later, in 1931, patriotic composer John Philip Sousa weighed in, and President Hoover signed the law making it officially our national song.

And did you know it actually has four stanzas? The fourth is especially moving:

"O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

— Michael Ryan, Executive Director, ROAR

A connected America must be a civil America

"America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ‘cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say ‘You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.’"
— Michael Douglas’ title character in the movie “The American President”

Two-thirds of Americans in a new poll say America is more divided than it was four years ago.

Here’s one reason.

Beloved pro football coach Tony Dungy, a gentleman if there ever was one, has been absolutely pilloried this week for admitting in an interview that he wouldn’t have drafted the National Football League’s first openly gay player, “Not because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it.”

After a fierce social media backlash, Dungy added that his objection wouldn’t be Sam’s sexual orientation, but the media circus that would result.

It’s an odd statement, to be sure, from a black coaching pioneer whose predecessors endured worse. But the firestorm kind of proves his point about today’s media vortex — and validates the poll that cites America’s deepening divisions.

Look, diversity of opinion is one of America’s great strengths. But it might as easily be the end of us, if we let it. If America is to thrive, or even endure, we’ve got to give each other a little more elbow room when it comes to opinions and thinking. It’s not just the civil thing to do, it’s the American way.

As Michael Douglas’ movie character so eloquently asserted, “Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.’”

Tony Dungy didn’t even come close to doing that, and look at the firestorm that encircled him. We need to ease up on each other. An increasingly connected America must also be a civil America.

Orwell’s idea of the Thought Police involved the government. He overlooked the horrifying possibility that we could be the thought cops ourselves.

— Michael Ryan, Executive Director, ROAR

Can we get a little love here?

It may not be a coincidence that “America” sounds an awful lot like “A miracle.”

After several thousand years in which most human beings were under the thumb of kings, princes, potentates and despots — as many are still today — an oasis of freedom emerged called America.

It took an ocean voyage and required much suffering, a bloody and risky revolution, and several centuries of trial and error, but mankind finally established a beachhead for liberty.

Inspired by their own experiences, by the great writings of history, by the Bible, and undoubtedly by God, America’s founders set out on a grand experiment of self-governance.

Her critics, foreign and domestic, dwell almost exclusively and obsessively on America’s warts. The media and academia often do so as well, tragically tainting youths’ views of this great land they were so blessed to be born in or brought to. What else in life is defined only by its imperfections? How is that possibly fair?

Nor are America’s shortcomings fairly compared to other places on the globe; instead, they’re generally put up against the ideal, an image of perfection no nation could match.

While acknowledging her flaws forthrightly, may we be as candid in citing her greatness. Surely we all can admit the blessings of liberty, equality, rule of law, opportunity and more. Surely our history of immigration — they’re swamping the southern border as you read this — is evidence enough. They are, as the song says, coming to America.

What is the percentage of people in human history who have lived free? It’s not large; it might be as small as 4 percent or less.

America is, indeed, a miracle.

Yet, the 364 days between each Fourth of July we hear more criticism of this country than praise or gratitude. Why is that? It’s one thing to show tough love, but how can that much self-loathing be healthy?

Abraham Lincoln called America “the last best hope of Earth.” We sure have a funny way of showing it sometimes.

— Michael Ryan, Executive Director, ROAR

P.S. — I highly recommend Dinesh D’Souza’s new movie “America — Imagine the World Without Her.” It’s refreshing for the old girl to get a little love for a change.

National borders? They go with the territory!

Contrary to the way some spin it, it’s not racist or elitist for a country to have borders. Borders are inherent in even having a country. It goes with the territory.

In fact, every country that we know of has them. And most control their borders better than we do.

It’s the most fundamental mission of a government. Why? Well, in the case of free countries, it’s in order to protect the right of the citizens within to create the kind of country they want.

Every country has its own laws and its own customs, traditions and culture. Any self-respecting nation would do at least the minimum to protect and preserve those laws, customs, traditions and culture.

It’s not at all mean to do it. It’s self-preservation and, again, self-respect. Nor is it mean or hateful to expect others to respect those borders, laws, customs, traditions and culture.

Neither is it xenophobic (hateful of foreigners) — which is the usual slur used to promote unfettered migration and open borders. Fact is, respecting national borders is the OPPOSITE of xenophobic; it’s the only way to ensure that the French stay French, the German stay German and so on.

Vive la différence! Variety is the spice of life, and our national cultural differences are delicious.

Foreign cultures — the language, the foods, the music, the traditions — are worth protecting. Your own is worth protecting too. And the only way to protect them is through limited, legal migration that allows for assimilation.

Nor is it compassionate to allow or even encourage and reward mass illegal immigration. It’s dangerous and often fatal to the immigrants, hazardous for host nations and sadly debilitating for those émigrés who fail to learn their new cultures and languages. It’s also quite corrosive to the rule of law.

Every country has borders. And there’s every reason for it.

— Michael Ryan, Executive Director, ROAR

Stepping into the leadership vacuum

Dinesh D’Souza’s new movie is titled “America: Imagine the World Without Her.”

We may not HAVE to imagine it. Like George Bailey in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” America may be seeing what the world would be like without her.

In the absence of America’s historical moral and military leadership, and lacking unambiguous statements and bold actions by our leaders, we’re seeing slaughter in Syria and Ukraine, war between Israel and Hamas, dangerous mass migration by minors in Central America and more.

While some here are embarrassed by American exceptionalism — the divinely inspired system of self-governance our Founders willed to us that has made America preeminent in human affairs — it is nonetheless a force for good in the world. It is a foundation for stability in an otherwise helter-skelter world.

Without American might and right, ne’er—do-wells, despots and tyrants feel emboldened to seize territory, oppress their own peoples and kill and confine others.

You needn’t claim sides politically to see that this world needs a strong, secure America — one that is not ashamed to be strong and secure, nor overly reluctant to intervene for peace, freedom and the protection of innocents.

No, we can’t be the world’s police, and ours is a war-weary nation. But we at least ought to fill the leadership vacuum so evident in today’s headlines.

In our absence, there are others who are happy to do it for us. And they’re not always the best sort.

— Michael Ryan, Executive Director, ROAR

Over the course of 10 days, ROAR.us is counting down the Top 10 things we can all do to help strengthen America.

July 4: No. 1: Be an informed, active citizen
July 7: No. 2: Be civil and kind
July 8: No. 3: Have a healthy lifestyle
July 9: No. 4: Decide what you believe and act on it
July 10: No. 5:Take responsibility for your life and your actions
July 11: No. 6: Be your brother’s keeper
July 14: No. 7: Be the best family member, neighbor and friend you can possibly be
July 15: No. 8: Hold your elected representatives accountable
July 16: No. 9: Be as self-reliant as you can
Today: No. 10: Be a model of unity to others

America seems more divided today than at anytime in most of our lives — racially, politically and even financially.

The numbers show it.

Some half a century after King’s “I have a dream” speech and three years after the ascendancy of the first black president, a Newsweek/Daily Beast poll in 2012 said 72 percent of whites and 89 of blacks think the country is divided by race.

Pew Research Center recently said the percentage of Republicans and Democrats who hold consistently conservative and liberal views, respectively, has risen in each case from about 5 percent to about 20. In other words, about 40 percent of the country is fairly cemented in its views.

As for class and income, Pew wrote late last year that income disparity “has reached levels not seen since 1928.”

Airing differing beliefs is one thing; it has always made America strong. But intolerance toward others’ beliefs — boycotting, trying to silence others, etc. — is quite another.

Our differences and diversity, long a chief virtue, could easily become the nation’s Achilles’ heel.

"Will America remain one nation, or are we are on the road to Balkanization and the breakup of America into ethnic enclaves?" asks columnist Patrick Buchanan.

It’s a good question. The answer depends on our dedication to unity and our tolerance for opposing views.

Unity doesn’t mean unanimity; there’s plenty of room for disagreement in a United States. But let’s decide to make America stronger. Debate, fiercely. But let’s at least agree to disagree civilly, dial down the rhetoric, and quit pitting one group against another.

May we be one nation, under God, indivisible.

— Michael Ryan, Executive Director, ROAR