This country is an idea, and one that’s lit the world for two centuries…
––Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborn in The West Wing – S2 E16
I am writing this post mostly because it’s the ‘4th of July Weekend’ and I want to encourage anybody who is reading this to listen to this:
Anybody who has known me very long knows I’m a huge fan of this podcast. I have listened to almost every episode since I first learned of it more than 20 years ago.
In a typical episode, the creator of the show, Clay Jenkinson, is interviewed as Thomas Jefferson, speaking from a 21st century perspective on both historical and contemporary events and issues; at the end of each hour Clay returns as himself to speak about what he has just said as Jefferson.
This episode is a departure from that format. To discuss Independence Day, Clay speaks with three people. The first is a listener, Brad Crisler – from Nashville, no less; second is Lindsay Chervinsky, an accomplished young historian; third is the venerable Joseph Ellis, one of the country’s most renowned authorities on the Early National Period (side note: it was Ellis’s American Sphinx that sparked my interest in Jefferson to begin with).
With Clay and his ‘semi-permanent guest host’ David Swenson, these three individuals offer a useful perspective on why, despite the challenges of any given moment, we shouldn’t give up on the idea that took shape in Philadelphia two-and-half-centuries ago: that all men (and women!) are created equal, are entitled to equal justice under the law, and can effectively govern themselves through compromise and majority rule.
Murica! It really is the best idea anybody’s ever come up with for a country – even if its origins are steeped in contradictions, and even as the institutions that were formed to implement those ideas have outlived the compromises that were necessary accommodate those contradictions.