Martin Luther King Jr.believed in the promise of America. He foresaw, a day, still to come, when "this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'" He read, in the documents of the Founders, "a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
The Founders were men; they lived at a particular time and place; they had their disagreements and shortcomings; they had their failings and inconsistencies. They articulated a high creed which they did not quite manage to follow, and which America itself has not quite managed to follow. We honor them, not for their success or perfection, but for the attempt: not that they reached the ineffable goal, but that they struggled forward.
It took almost one hundred years after the Declaration called universal equality 'self-evident' before a violent war was necessary to put a stop to the notion that one human being can own another. Another hundred years went by before blacks had the right to vote throughout the land. Two centuries is a long time to wait.
There have been other struggles. Suffrage for the non-landed. Women's suffrage. Gay rights. America defaulted on her promissory note for far too long in far too many cases.
The struggle continues today. Blacks continue to experience far higher rates of poverty, and there remains massive disparity in arrest and conviction rates for blacks and whites. Cousin marriage is more likely to be legal than same-sex marriage. Gender income disparity remains high.
But despite this, we carry on the struggle. We believe in the day when the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and the moral arc of the universe will at last come around. We look with hope towards the bright tomorrow when the mountains of despair fall crashing down and the valleys of inequity are raised up.
Our Founders never saw that final day; King never saw that final day; perhaps we, too, will not see it, but that does not matter. What matters is that we struggled, that we stood up, that we held to the dream, that we marched forward towards the day when justice shall roll like a mighty stream.
Beck and company want only to take us back. They believe in America, not as a promise as yet unfulfilled, but as the broken jaw of a lost kingdom that must be pieced back together. Once, they say, things were better, back when they were unaware of the plight of their fellow-man. Back, back, back, restore, restore, restore!
What are we restoring, and to what are we returning? The days of slavery, or Jim Crow? The times before Women's Suffrage or spousal rape laws? The present day of rampant xenophobia against Hispanics and Muslims and legal discrimination against gays?
They cannot say. Those who use 'will not be judged by the color of their skin' to mean that white privilege should be conveniently forgotten cannot be expected to articulate a vision. Indeed, they have no vision, only indignation that the moral arc of the universe should bend any way but their own.
Let freedom ring, then. Let it ring from every mountainside, and let those who complain at being roused from their moral sleep be damned.