I spent this weekend with all the usual activities that we’ve come to associate with Independence Day: parades, getting sunburned, and fireworks. I did this all in Independence, where else? As we watched fireworks light up the night sky behind the city’s historic Wapsipinicon Mill [see photo by my wife] my mind drifted back to the many Independence Day fireworks displays I’d seen in my youth.
The Mill, dark and foreboding in the foreground, had silently observed about 140 such July 4th celebrations. I wondered how many more would it see? Would my children still celebrate the founding of a nation called “The United States of America” when they’re my age? This was the first Independence Day that I wondered if they would.
The nation whose birthday we celebrated is now $13.2 trillion in debt. To put that number in perspective, if you spent $1 per second it would take you 31,710 years to spend just one trillion dollars. We’re on track to add another $1.5 trillion on to that government debt this year alone, with similar sized deficits for years to come. Total spending by the entire federal government was only about $2 trillion in 1990 (in inflation-adjusted dollars), so our yearly budget deficit is now almost equal to the entire budget just 20 years ago. President Obama’s budget would double the national debt by 2020.
Add to that debt another $109 trillion in unfunded liabilities (promised benefits) for Social Security and Medicare. Add to that debt every “unforeseen” emergency expenditure, war, new entitlement and pork barrel project to come. You don’t need a crystal ball to see that that can’t go on forever.
Budget numbers aren’t the only alarming trends. Our society itself seems to be in a state of flux. The federal government has broken free of its Constitutional shackles and now tries to regulate every aspect of human existence. Some states are showing a rebelliousness against federal intrusion that we haven’t seen since before the Civil War. The people, too, seem to be awakening to the federal government’s usurpation. While I think that’s a good thing, if the feds respond with the jackboot, things could get ugly.
So will my boys one day become men in a free and prosperous land, as I did, or in a land torn by war and economic destitution? I don’t know. The best I could do was hold them close on the cool night grass and watch what my 4-year-old called the pretty “sizzles in the sky.”
I pray that these celebrations of our nation’s founding are the only “rockets’ red glare” that they will ever know. I recall the words of Thomas Paine in The Crisis, December 23, 1776: “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.”