Up too early on Thanksgiving morning, I watched a brilliant sunrise to the east over a truck stop create a rose-tinged rainbow over the Love’s sign to the west. This stunning moment of beauty in the heartland brought to mind a great Republican speaker’s quip that: “The House is a truck stop, but the Senate is a country club.”
In this season of Republican discontent over too few and too narrow electoral wins, Republicans should recall that we are the party of love, liberty, equality, and servant leadership.
Republicans were widely portrayed as the opposite this past election – as a danger to democracy, and as extremists embracing authoritarian hierarchies. Sadly, some independent voters (and most Democrats) actually seem to believe this inversion of reality. This description was so foreign to our thinking that we dismissed it as almost laughable; we should instead take note and be who we are.
Today, we Republicans are the party of Jefferson, Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr.
Put yourself into Jefferson’s place, time, and mind and imagine what he was thinking as he crafted the elegantly terse 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. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …
A religious man, Jefferson was most comfortable with Deism – he believed in God and in understanding the divine through reason and logic. A product of the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, his ideas are the foundational ideals of our nation.
So what was he thinking as he wrote those words?
I believe he was thinking about love – the second great commandment in Christianity – to love your neighbor as you would love yourself. Why? Because the entire law is found in that concept – and because it’s also a concept found in every great religion. A perfect cornerstone for a universalist Deist like Jefferson upon which to establish a new nation.
The entire law, all that makes our nation special, is built into the concept of neighborly love. Our nation was the first and is still the only nation that was self-consciously defined by and derived from love: not romantic or parental love, but the love of a stranger who is nothing more than another human being.
Love is the great equalizer. This commandment is premised on, and affirms, equal standing before God. In this paradigm, neither I nor you stand above or below any other – all are equal.
And if all are equal, and if all the law falls from the second great commandment to love thy neighbor, then rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are logical derivations of our God-given, love-commanded equality.
This was a radical rethinking of social ordering. The Declaration explicitly rejects the divine right of kings and the hierarchy and status flowing from that premise. Instead, Jefferson asserted divine human equality as the logical premise for the universal commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself. If all are equal, why would or should any submit to a government that purports to be greater than the people themselves? Self-government is the only logical form of government among people who are equal.
Jeffersonian government is not above the people, but below them – a government that serves instead of a government that rules. This is what Lincoln would recast in the Gettysburg Address as government of, by, and for the people.
It’s true that these beautiful ideas were not fully reflected in the social structures of Jefferson’s time. But these words were self-consciously ideal in concept, and not some delusional description of his day. This is why nearly 200 years after they were written and 100 years after Lincoln affirmed them that Martin Luther King called these ideals a promissory note to which every American is an heir.
Democrats today scorn equality and call instead for equity. But “equity” is transactional, a demand for recompense justified in anger, whereas Jeffersonian equality is a divine status defined by love.
The left is animated by this idea: Our nation was imperfect at birth and therefore a lie in concept, and all of our institutions are irreparably polluted by hateful ideas, especially racism. Our founding ideals are disparaged by the Founders’ own sins.
Many who reject Republicans today assert that the duty of good people is to deconstruct our nation and start with a self-conscious acknowledgment that we are not equal – which has become the dominant framework of “social justice” being taught in most of our schools.
Busts of Jefferson are removed from libraries and statues of Lincoln are defaced, including one in Chicago last week.
So, let’s clear the air as we start a new era of Republican governance in the House. The Republican Party is defined by 1776, not Jan. 6.
Republicans believe in and seek to live into the equalizing power of neighborly love – neither better nor worse. We seek to form a government that serves us instead of ruling over us. And we stand against policies and people motivated by anger and hate for others.
We are not who they say we are. From school board meetings to the House of Representatives, Republicans strive to rebut and roll back ideas motivated by hate, anger, and envy. We support leaders who resolutely defend, preserve, and promote the equalizing power of mutual respect, and our divine rights to liberty, self-government, and the pursuit of happiness.