Voice of Democracy Third Place Winner

Voice of Democracy Third Place Winner

James Steidl

Drew Hanson, Lead Editor

If you are in one of Mr. Andersons classes during the first semester, chances are you saw the “Voice of Democracy” essay contest poster. This poster has caught my eye the past few years, and this year I decided to enter to increase my funds for college. The contest is an audio essay speech no longer than five minutes, and is delivered to your local VFW post. From there it goes to district, and then onto state. I received first place in district four and third in the state of Kansas. I strongly encourage any underclassmen to look into this contest in the future, as it’s a great opportunity to earn some extra funds and display your opinion on political and social matters to people who care. The VFW website describes the contest as:

“Since 1947, the Voice of Democracy has been the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ (VFW’s) premier scholarship program. Each year, nearly 57,000
high school students compete for more than $2 million in scholarships and incentives. Students compete by writing and recording an audio essay on an annual patriotic theme. This year’s theme is, Is This the Country the Founders Envisioned?”

Here is the written form of my essay:

Is This the Country the Founders Envisioned?

This prompt brings me pleasant reminiscence. I distinctly remember being asked this very question on the first day of US History in eighth grade and quarreling in a debate with my classmates over the founders’ interpretations of both the Constitution and what they envisioned this country to be. I was adamant in believing that our forefathers never anticipated nor wanted our country to insert itself in affairs concerning global trade and commerce, involvement in wars, or even the expansion to fifty United States. Since then I’ve gained a little more knowledge and hopefully some wisdom and have since realized that the founders’ views on the Constitution and framing of the country were far from monolithic. 

When we think about modern American politics, we picture fierce debate: Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump exchange jabs in the oval office, Senators Bernie Sanders and Mitch McConnell debate on the Senate floor, and Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor have fierce disagreements on the nation’s highest court. Two hundred forty-four years ago in seventeen seventy-six, it appears as if it was no different. Founders Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson clashed over the idea of a central bank, the federalists and anti-federalists contended over the existence of the Bill of Rights, and the delegates to the constitutional convention battled over the very essence of what our country is and ought to be. 

 Despite the plethora of disagreements among what our great founders envisioned, one thing remained alike within them that made this group of men distinguishable from any other group of thinkers in history. I believe it is what has allowed us to flourish into the great nation we are today. This unifying concept is not a thought, idea, nor opinion but rather a desire. Each and every one of those men, despite their deep disagreements, possessed a desire to mold a nation of the people, by the people, and for the people, one that was truly in the best interest of each and every individual American, and one that was the greatest on the face of this earth. 

Today, when looking at our government, we can hardly say the same. While the Federalists and their anti counterparts had a deep divide, they came together to draft the most concise and impressive legal document known to date, the constitution. Today, during the midst of one of the worst public health crises the nation has ever faced, our legislators on both sides of the aisle were unable to put partisan politics aside in order to provide basic assistance to the American people. 

This is not what the founders envisioned. The founders envisioned a nation in which people possessed the power to rule themselves and hold their elected candidates responsible to the will of people, not one where they watch their representatives continue to put party politics ahead of getting things done. President John Adams said it best in a letter to a friend. “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

Hyper partisanship alone isn’t the only issue the founders would have with our modern political system. Nowadays, it seems as if the rhetoric itself coming from both sides of the aisle is unnecessarily divisive. Do not be mistaken though, the founding fathers weren’t immune to political insults. Actually, the founders insulted each other a great deal but did so with class and flair. For example, this is a quote from Benjamin Franklin speaking on John Adams. “Adams is always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes and in some things, absolutely out of his senses.” While it could be said that Franklin is essentially calling the second president of the United States of America a nutcase, it is also fair to say that this type of rhetoric is a breath of fresh air compared to the relentless banter that we heard in this year’s presidential debates, campaign ads, and political landscape as a whole. If in our society, we are given two ways to say something, one of which is more likely to divide people than unite them, or anger than enlighten them, it is obvious which one we should choose if we wish for a positive outcome. 

By this point in the essay, it appears as if I think that the founders would be enraged by what our country has become. This could not be further from the truth. You see, my critique falls upon what the government has become, not the people. Earlier, I mentioned the founders one unifying concept: desire. The desire to mold a nation that is truly by the people and the best it could possibly be may no longer lie within the government, but it never faded away from the minds and spirits of the American people. We see this in our youth activists organizing strikes at their schools for action on climate change; we see this in our farmers throughout the Midwest toiling day in and day out to provide food for America; and we see this in every American who is partaking in some form of service to their fellow citizen, whether they be a social worker or a soldier. 

Now that I’ve come to this realization, if I could go back to my first day of history class eighth grade year, the following is what I would tell myself. Had the founders come back today and placed themselves in Washington, it would be fair to say they’d be disappointed in the current state of political affairs. However, if they placed themselves in any community in which average Americans went about their day-to-day lives, they would look upon it with pride. This is because it doesn’t matter whom you observe, whether it be school teachers, firefighters, engineers, doctors, cashiers, or cooks, the flame of desire that is lit in the torch of which lady liberty holds high still burns bright, and that is exactly what the founders envisioned.