Beinstein column: The dignity of the common man
Study the true history of the Revolutionary War and you might be surprised to find out who was actually responsible for our independence. They were people we’d recognize as our neighbors — silversmiths and farmers, country doctors and small-town lawyers, newspapermen and Baptist preachers.
In short, the lifeblood of our nation has always been and will always be the common man. He, and he alone, is the one worth celebrating.
In the lead up to the War against Great Britain, the shopkeeper and the artisan and the tavern owner were all suffering from the same plight: Paying too much in tax to England to help her recoup debts from its recent war against France in modern-day Ohio.
The Baptist preacher, meanwhile, was jailed by the Anglican hierarchy because the English held its clergy, and only its clergy, were capable of faithfully preaching the Gospels.
And, it was Samuel Adams, a failed tax collector, who articulated the religious passions of his fellow puritans: They were tired of living under a modern day pharaoh, the British King, and yearned for a Moses to offer them deliverance.
Skip ahead to the Civil War and you will detect the fingerprints of the same common man. Churches all over the North were imbued with an evangelical passion to abolish Mammon and to set the black man free. Ordinary people of all professions risked their lives to go underground to get the black man across the Ohio River, and to secure his place in a new promised land, a Canaan up North.
And, it was people like Abraham Lincoln’s father, a modest dirt farmer, that would rightfully complain about the inability of free laborers to compete with those who did own slaves. In short, it was a combination of evangelicals and ordinary laborers and heroic soldiers who would help remove from this country its original sin of slavery.
Move ahead to the Cold War and a similar narrative unfolds. Christians of all kinds were deathly afraid of the atheist Communists trying to destroy their faith and religious liberty. Hardworking Americans found it unacceptable to live in a society where a person’s work ethic and capacity for risk and innovation would bear no resemblance to their economic fortunes. And the people on the ground in our military and intelligence services refused to lay down and watch the freedoms of others disappear. In short, a religious fervor coupled with our work ethic and military prowess ensured victory over the Soviets.
And now, here we are today. The common man, thankfully, seems to have a champion these days in the White House. With a president who prioritizes tax cuts over tax increases, military strength as opposed to military weakness, religious liberty instead of religious desecration, the forgotten man is in fact forgotten no more.
But this can never be taken for granted. The creeping artificial elite in Washington is always looking to arrogate more power for itself at the expense of the people. This won’t happen if the people stay on guard and heed the words that Ronald Reagan wrote to a Methodist minister in 1978. Speculating upon the nature of Christ, Reagan asked who was He, really? A humble carpenter without any property, formal education, or title in society.
That, often, describes who the common man is, as well. He has no Ivy League degree to showcase. If he has any property, it’s usually a relatively small family home. The job he does carry in society, like that of plumber or electrician or carpenter, usually garners very little respect from the powers that be. And yet he is the one who makes society work. He works extremely hard every day, without any job security to which he can arrogantly cling.
He is forgiving and charitable. And, he zestfully reads the Scriptures and rests most Sundays. But the inspiration we draw from the common man should not come merely in the way we should all live our lives. The example of the common man should also help inspire the answers we generate to our most vexing public policy questions.
How do we balance mercy and justice with respect to abortion? To what extent should religious tradition define our policy with respect to gay rights? How do we reconcile our need for social insurance programs and the urgent demand to lower our $20 trillion debt? Is it possible to convince Iran to look at its pre-Islamic past, when, in the case of Cyrus the Great and Queen Esther, it was the savior of Israel and the Jewish people, not its enemy? Can we trade our security guarantees of Taiwan to China in exchange for China giving its own people much more freedom and liberty? Does equality mean that every student from Delta to preppies back in New England receive the same great K-12 education?
If we listen closely enough to the common man, the answers should all be right there. In the end, he is the only reason we have a country in the first place.
Happy belated New Year, and God bless.
Alex Beinstein of Carbondale was a Republican primary congressional candidate in 2016 challenging incumbent Scott Tipton. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent.