Catching glimpses of the movie musical “1776” on election eve is an inspiration and a reality check.
It’s inspiring watching the Founding Fathers – or the actors playing them – struggle over the Declaration of Independence. It’s enlightening seeing these figures in a history book as flawed and feuding individuals who came together for a new country’s sake.
While I know that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson didn’t break into song to make a point, those lapses into dramatic license don’t seem at all out of place on the streets of Philadelphia more than a bicentennial ago.
The reality check is the movie’s message: The way to liberty was not pretty.
The delegates bicker and insult one another. At times it seems as though the different colonies with disparate needs will never agree on anything.
The country has come through an election season marred by charges that one party sides with terrorists and the other doesn’t care about working people.
We have voting machines riddled with glitches. Robo-calls mislead; television ads distort. At times it seems that more effort is put into strong-arming the vote than just making sure that
everyone who can vote gets the opportunity to vote.
But those who would declare themselves disgusted by both sides, those tempted to just sit on the sidelines, should rewind through the more contentious scenes in “1776.”
Cautious businessmen and landowners are content to remain Englishmen, and protect their fortunes.
Southern slaveholders walk out rather than entertain the thought that their “property” be considered fellow citizens of this new country, their equals in rights and privileges.
Benjamin Franklin is comic relief, mainly there to fall asleep during history-making meetings of the Continental Congress, waking up long enough to utter a witty comeback.
The men who would be immortalized in museums and history books are forced to compromise on basic principles.
You don’t have to agree – then or now. I certainly wish those fine men with lofty goals had demanded more actions behind the words of the Declaration of Independence. I lament that they passed slavery on to future generations.
But the document is sound. The sentiment is right.
The Founding Fathers might never have envisioned a Congress so large, represented by people from every race and nationality, or a House of Representatives led by a woman.
However, they looked to the future.
That’s what I think the American people want right now.
We want an end to the blame and recriminations. We want all sides to contribute their best and move toward solutions. We used this system of checks and balances, as it seems we always do when the pendulum swings too far one way or the other.
The tough work has already been done, in “1776” and beyond.
The Democrats and Republicans would do well to remember:
Democracy is hard. Giving up is easy. It’s now up to you.
If John Adams returned for a ghostly stroll through his old congressional stomping ground, he would certainly recognize not only the rancor but also the resilience that the American people demand and expect.
Let’s hope the Massachusetts revolutionary might even find something to sing about.