Responsibility, respect must remain part of our exceptionalism

Good morning, fellow Americans. Welcome to another birthday. It’s July 4th again. There will be fireworks, hot dogs and heat today.

There also will be independence, which is what we are celebrating today.

It is independence blazed by immigrants who came to this land in search of religious and political freedom. Through a tumultuous war and painstaking design of a principled Constitution, they birthed a country that has become, over the course of nearly two and a half centuries, the template for democratic government and economic freedom.

American exceptionalism is not just a catchy phrase. It’s in our DNA. It’s the basis of our founding, our growth and our principles.

As part of that exceptionalism, we are the world’s most self-evaluating country. We saw the sin of slavery and overcame it. We have struggled with various forms of cultural, economic and social inequality and injustice and have tried to right those wrongs. In concert with the corrections process is a devotion to free speech that creates a level of debate not allowed anywhere else.

For that we should all be thankful. But in this era when social media and other conduits of communication allow an unprecedented level of discourse, we are a country in danger of boiling over.

Sometimes the illegitimately violent exercising of free speech is committed against those most directly practicing it. Such was the case last week with the slaying of five newspaper employees at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. We grieve for families of the victims, a fellow community newspaper and the entire community over such a senseless, tragic act. The Founders and those who shed blood to gain our independence never intended for free speech to be exercised so wrongly.

Clearly, we Americans need to spend a little time today thinking about how we go about correcting our flaws. The freedom of speech that makes us so exceptional must be used with maturity and respect. Throwing chairs through windows, damaging statues that are part of our history and violently coming after each other over ideological differences will not right any wrong.

The path to overcoming our imperfections was penned very long ago by our Founding Fathers. It calls for healthy debate and a reverence toward freedom, independence, equality and advancement of all who live here based on principles of fairness and equal representation.

Rallying people to harass those we do not agree with is not the way we solve problems in this exceptional country. We are better than that.

Let us on this Independence Day remember we are the greatest experiment the world has known. We can continue to be that by exercising our democratic principles with responsibility and respect.