It’s been a difficult 100 days.
For many, the first months of the Trump presidency have threatened fundamental American principles and the integrity of our nation. The travel ban and health care policies were a debacle. Various Cabinet secretaries were chosen to destroy the very agencies they head.
Equally alarming, several Trump associates are being investigated for possible collusion with Russia, which 17 national security agencies say meddled in the 2016 election.
Historians and citizens alike worry the new president is dismantling a remarkable governmental system.
In a time of national anxiety, it is worth reminding ourselves of our core values. So it’s rather propitious the Museum of The American Revolution opened April 19.
Its key exhibit details the ideas, events and legacies of our radical genesis, via immersive art galleries and films. The collection houses thousands of objects, from art works and manuscripts to the original tent George Washington used as his command center during the Revolutionary War.
The museum launches at a moment when the enlightened philosophies of our Founding Fathers, in some measure, are under attack. Located blocks from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the American Constitution was debated and drafted, the museum trumpets American history and democracy.
As Benjamin Rush, one of the founding fathers and signers of the Declaration of Independence, noted: “The American war is over; but this is far from being the case with the American revolution...”
Indeed, his fight continues into the 21st century, when the safety of our citizens — and the Founders’ vision for the U.S. — is challenged.
For example, hate crimes are on the rise, including a shocking 86% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the first quarter of 2017 vs. 2016, according to the ADL and the FBI. Such violence forces us to remember the tenets that make America great, such as pluralism and religious freedom.
That’s where the Museum of American Revolution proves most valuable.
It aims to answer four basic questions: 1. How did we become revolutionary? 2. How did we survive (and win) the revolution? 3. How revolutionary was the war? 4. What kind of nation did the revolution create?
The fourth question, in particular, impacts everyone. It should encourage us to evaluate the current state of affairs and ask:
Do we endorse the beliefs that drove the Revolution? Do we value freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of expression, an independent judiciary? All are integral to the fabric of American society.
True, many of the freedoms guaranteed today did not exist at the birth of our nation. But through provisions in the Constitution, those freedoms were fought for and written into law.
Yet the failure to embrace our historic legacy has led us into dark corners that curtailed human rights and freedom of expression — be it the Sedition Act of 1918, the McCarthy blacklists, the bloody battles for civil rights or current efforts to discredit an independent press and judiciary. Such repression, however, has never succeeded long-term.
We must ensure it never does. And it begins with an enlightened citizenry.
The museum’s charge is to educate visitors on the complexities of America’s founding. Consider the past prologue to a better future.
Or as Dr. Scott Stephenson, VP of collections, exhibitions and programming at the museum, told 1210 WPHT in Philadelphia: “We are still living in the American revolution, as those ideas shape the lives of millions of people around the world.”