Byrne: To end violence, return to American values
The recent violence in our country – and the passionate debates it has sparked – have led me to reflect on the emotional state of our country and the battle being waged between good and evil.
I thought back to comments I gave earlier this year at a naturalization ceremony. These new citizens were gifted with the opportunity to forge for themselves a new American identity, complete with all its blessings, possibilities and responsibilities.
That morning at the U.S.S. Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, I spoke of the American belief in self-government, that ‘we the people’ can govern ourselves. To successfully execute such a radical (at the time) idea, we had to found our nation on some basic values. From our adherence and loyalty to those values, our American character was created.
I quoted the words of the 19th-century French observer of early America, Alexis De Tocqueville, written several decades after our nation’s founding. He said “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
De Tocqueville knew that democracy, in many ways, is a burden upon its people. They cannot rely on the direction of an autocrat. In a democracy, more so than other systems of government, the nature of its people is reflected in their government. De Tocqueville knew that for a representative democracy like ours to remain, its people must be virtuous. That is a big responsibility!
With the goal of creating and preserving a virtuous society, our founders laid out fundamental principles. Our natural rights were given to us by God. Government is instituted by men to protect those rights. With our rights preserved, our values can flourish.
Those values have led to the traditions, vibrancy, and endurance of American culture.
We all know that our country is one of religious freedom. Each of us can practice any religion we choose or none at all. The establishment clause of our constitution prohibits an official state religion.
However, our nation has increasingly rejected our foundational beliefs in natural rights and moral absolutism – that there is universal right and wrong that does not change. Without these beliefs, law and order and even good and evil are subjective. Not only can these definitions change from generation to generation, but conflicting value systems will clash violently in the present.
Unfortunately, the post-modern world in which we live seeks not only to undermine religious freedom but moral absolutism itself. These attacks are no longer limited to the salons of liberal coastal enclaves. They are now taking place in the halls of Congress.
I’m also troubled by the weakening of an American quality that has served to keep our large and diverse nation together—our sense of community.
Communities are not made up of thousands of Twitter followers or Facebook friends. They are forged through the personal interactions all humans need. They are forged at neighborhood parties, Little League practices, Friday night football games and places of worship.
Unfortunately, in recent decades, our sense of community has been lost, and the consequences have been swift and severe. Technologies initially projected to bring us together have led to a growing epidemic of crushing isolation. Mental health issues have skyrocketed.
The result has been a fundamental breakdown of American society. To reverse the trend, we must return to the values and sense of community that made America strong.
These traditional American values are Alabama values. They have guided me as a son, brother, father and now grandfather. They are the values that guide me in Washington.
I will not remain silent while those who cherish these values are attacked and blamed for problems caused by the rejection of what made us great. American values – and our rights – must be defended.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.