When the Founding Fathers slapped together this great nation of ours (America), the world was a very different place. England was the most powerful nation on Earth, a fact that never ceased to embarrass the other nations. The most scandalous fashion trend was wearing a coat made of foxes with the foxes still alive. The ice cream cone had not yet been invented. Wi-fi was spotty at best.
Yet despite all that has changed, the nation born that hot, steamy, sexy July day in 1776 has endured for however many years it has been since then, and will probably yet endure for more years after this one. The Founding Fathers would be gratified and pleased to see how much we’ve built on the foundation they laid.
OR WOULD THEY??
A recent poll asked people who were willing to answer their phones and talk to strangers, “Do you think the Founding Fathers would approve or disapprove of how things are going in Washington these days?” Only 13% said they thought the Founding Fathers would approve; 82% said they would disapprove; and 5% said they didn’t know what the Founding Fathers would think (which is actually the objectively correct answer). Liberals were more likely than conservatives to think the Founding Fathers would approve — 23% versus 8% — but no matter how you slice it, we Americans seem to think George, Tommy, Benji, and the gang would take a dim view of our current affairs.
Now, obviously, if the Founding Fathers suddenly appeared before us, they would have to recover from many great shocks before they could assess our modern government. For example, they would be astonished to learn that women are voting (though to be fair, this has come as a pretty big shock to the Texas legislature, too). They’d be surprised to see that not only has slavery been abolished, but the most powerful person in America is a black man, Jay-Z. They would marvel at how the original 13 colonies have grown to 50 states, plus a District of Columbia, plus whatever Puerto Rico is! Why, in the 1870s alone, we killed more Indians than the Founding Fathers ever dreamed possible.
And of course they would be terrified by our modern technology: our skinny jeans, our rocket launchers, our Miley Cyruses. When the Founding Fathers were doing their founding and fathering, the quickest way to get a message from Philadelphia to Boston was to find a river that flowed that direction and throw a bottle in it. No one ever traveled any faster than about 25 miles per hour, and that was only possible on horseback, and only if you set the horse on fire. The mere sight of automobiles would make the Founding Fathers soil their breeches.
But once they’d had time to acclimate themselves, what would the Founding Fathers think of 21st-century America? It’s probably true that they wouldn’t approve of the gridlock, the stubborn partisanship, and the general jackassery of modern-day Washington D.C. — most Americans who aren’t Founding Fathers don’t approve of it, either. But while it has gotten worse in the last 30 years or so, it’s not like those problems didn’t exist in ye olden tymes. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams regularly had fistfights in the Capitol hallways. James Madison once stabbed Benjamin Franklin in the neck with a fork in a dispute over the pronunciation of the word “tariff.” (Franklin kept saying “tar-EEF.”) Alexander Hamilton burned Patrick Henry’s farm to the ground just to prove a point about the Fourth Amendment. Whenever John Jay addressed Congress, John Quincy Adams would stand behind him and make fart noises. George Washington murdered John Hancock, and nobody did anything because he was George Washington.
I think the Founding Fathers would have a more optimistic view of things than we give them credit for. Sure, we have problems that they couldn’t have predicted: terrorism, crippling debt, sequels to Adam Sandler movies, Florida, the list goes on. But look at us. Just LOOK at us! Surely the Founding Fathers would beam with pride to see their crazy experiment still alive at all, let alone quasi-healthy. We took everything they started with and made it bigger, better, louder, and fatter. America’s influence is felt everywhere in the world, often in a positive way, though occasionally in the form of Donald Trump. We change presidents as often as every four years without anyone being killed over it!
If the people conducting that survey had called me, and if I had answered the phone even though the number was unfamiliar to me or blocked altogether, and if I had then agreed to take the survey — none of which would have ever happened, but stay with me here — my response would have been as follows:
“The Founding Fathers may not care for some of the details of our current government, but I think they’d be overjoyed by America’s progress, by our achievements in science, technology, literature, and fried snacks. They’d be thrilled — probably shocked beyond belief, actually — that the rebellious li’l country they started at the end of the 18th century is still around in the 21st, and that it leads the world in innovation and freedom, as symbolized by our willingness to let professional wrestlers become governors and our acceptance of Juggalos. The Founding Fathers would be delighted to see how much things have improved since their day — how, for example, Americans can just walk up to a British person and smack him in the face without being put in the stocks. Yes, despite our squabbles, our foibles, our bobbles and tribbles, I think the Founding Fathers would see that we’re gonna make it out OK.”
And the person taking the survey would have said, “Sir, this was not an essay question,” and I would have said, “YOU CAN’T STIFLE MY FREEDOM!!” and slammed down the phone, for America.