or example, I was in the Army and stationed in West Germany when the Berlin Wall came down in November of 1989. It was news where we were, but I don’t think many of us in Rheinberg really understood that the epochal event of our generation was playing itself out only a few hundred miles away. We look back at it today as the touchstone that it is — the death knell of the Soviet Union. But at the time, most of us didn’t recognize it as such.
That’s likely because for all of my life, and most of my parents’ lives, the Soviet Union was the grand villain, the ubiquitous enemy, a fount of evil that simply was. It was the perpetual enemy to be feared above all else, and it was the reason I and hundreds of thousands of others spent weeks, months, or years training to counter attacks coming from Poland or East Germany or the Soviet Union itself.
In an environment where the Soviets being enemies was as natural as gravity, it was hard to see the fall of the Wall changing the world. But it did. September 11 was something different altogether. Most of the country was going about its normal business that morning, another mundane Tuesday. Then the first plane hit. It was a stunning event, but for a moment, we thought it was a tragedy of an accident. The kind of bad thing that sometimes happens. The moment the second plane hit, everyone in America knew that something was going on. When those two buildings, those two signs of American strength and prosperity, came down, we knew that the world had changed.
And now we sit here, two decades later, and we are at a point in history no less important than the fall of the Berlin Wall or the attack on the Twin Towers. When the Soviets or the Islamic terrorists were the enemy, we understood exactly what was at stake: our nation and our culture. Today, both of those things are in peril, but in a far more pernicious way.
The danger today strikes at the foundation of our Republic.
Most Americans don’t quite recognize that the exercise of the various God-given rights we enjoy is protected not by the 231-year-old document displayed in the National Archives, but rather by the fact that most Americans choose to respect the government and institutions that have been built on that document’s words. While the police and other government officials play a role in dealing with outliers, for the most part, Americans pay their taxes, obey the law, and avoid confrontations with their neighbors voluntarily. They understand they are part of neighborhoods, communities, and a country based on laws that find their foundation (mostly) in the Constitution and values that find their inspiration in the Declaration of Independence.
Americans follow the rules not because of stormtroopers stationed on every corner, enforcing diktats from above, but because the Constitution gives them a say in their government and their leaders. As such, even though Americans generally have a negative perception of Congress (18% approval rating), they remain engaged because every two years, they have an opportunity to “throw the bums out!” And while they almost never actually do that, Americ….