What is the spirit of liberty?
Judge Learned Hand, in remarks given to a group of newly naturalized citizens during “I Am an American Day,” gave the definitive answer.
I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interest alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned, but has never quite forgotten – that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side-by-side with the greatest.
Democrats, simply put, were not filled with the spirit of liberty. They were sure they were right, they labeled a vast swath of Americans a “irredeemable” and “basket of deplorables” rather than attempt to understand their struggles, they refused to see the world except through the lens of their own bias, and they refused to fight for the forgotten and downtrodden members of society.
As economist Robert Reich writes in The Guardian, “The Democratic party once represented the working class. But over the last three decades the party has been taken over by Washington-based fundraisers, bundlers, analysts and pollsters who have focused instead on raising campaign money from corporate and Wall Street executive and getting votes from upper middle-class households in “swing” suburbs.
The result was a dignity deficit, which turned out to be a far more immediate problem than the fiscal deficit that consumed Republican thought. As Arthur Brooks writes for the Wall Street Journal, this deficit is the result of decades of wage stagnation and job loss among the working classes that has robbed entire communities of their sense of dignity and worth.
Too many Americans have lost pride in themselves. We sense dignity by creating value with our lives, through families, communities, and especially work. That is why American leaders so frequently talk about dignity in the context of labor. As Martin Luther King Jr. taught, “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” Conversely, nothing destroys dignity more than idleness and a sense of superfluousness—the feeling that one is simply not needed.
Donald Trump understood this tectonic shift before anyone else did. He saw a Democratic party that has strayed from its working class roots to become a mouthpiece for the ivory tower and he saw a Republican party that was too afraid of its own shadow to grasp the opportunity before it. Most importantly, he saw an enormous group of Americans who were at risk of no longer being represented by a party – the blue collar workers that struggled everyday of their lives to build this country into what it is today.
This group of people was rightfully worried about their place in the world and anxious about a future that appeared dim. In short, they felt as though the country was on the wrong track and that the elites in Washington were too busy stuffing their pockets to get everyday Americans back on the track to prosperity.
“Seven out of 10 Americans, they do not like the direction our country is going. Many of our fellow citizens feel alienated and have lost faith in our core institutions,” Speaker Paul Ryan said. “They don’t feel heard and they don’t feel represented by those in office.”
“But Donald Trump heard a voice out in this country that no one else heard. He connected with — he connected in ways with people no one else did. He turned politics on its head. And now, Donald Trump will lead a unified Republican government. And we will work hand-in- hand on a positive agenda to tackle this country’s big challenges,” Ryan continued.
There is no doubt that this is a narrow and treacherous path to tread, but with the spirit of liberty as our guide and human dignity as our North Star, we can succeed.