Those trying to dissect why Americans are in such a populist mood need only watch a short segment from NBC News stalwart Chuck Todd.
On an episode of “Meet the Press,” which he hosts, Todd seemed aghast and bewildered by a statement delivered by Roy Moore, Alabama’s Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate.
“Our rights don’t come from government,” Moore said in a clip Todd played on his show. “They don’t come from the Bill of Rights. They come from Almighty God.”
Todd said these statements mean that Moore “doesn’t appear to believe in the Constitution as it’s written,” and are “a taste of what are very fundamentalist views that have gotten him removed from office, twice, as Alabama’s chief justice.”
The ominous and “fundamentalist” views that Todd was concerned about are frequently cited from this now seemingly arcane and obscure text:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The belief that rights come from God and not government is a simple articulation of the “natural rights” philosophy that Thomas Jefferson famously wrote into the Declaration of Independence.
Beyond creating our form of government, the Constitution was designed to protect rights that were understood to be inherent to all human beings. The notion that believing in God-given rights is somehow against the Constitution is laughably off base.
Todd not only fails to understand ideas that come straight from the Declaration of Independence—and placed at the cornerstone of our civilization—but describes those who believe in them to be dangerous and almost un-American.
A foundational creed of seeing rights as inherent to all human beings and deriving from the creator is one of the hallmarks of American civilization and American exceptionalism. It was at the heart of the anti-slavery movement, and today drives much of opposition to abortion.
The idea of God-given rights is one of the defining elements that allows the United States to be not just a great country of awesome power, but a good country as well. This is a factor to think about as countries without this tradition—such as communist China—grow in international strength.
Dismissal or ignorance of our country’s fundamental ideals is a disturbing trend in American life that comes from the nation’s cultural and institutional elites.
It would be bad enough that those who occupy America’s upper social strata undermine foundational American views, but now they don’t even have a basic understanding of what they are attacking.
And it pretty succinctly explains why there is such a vast cultural chasm opening up in this country.
Concepts that would have been universally understood in earlier times are lost.
This is a good indication that something has gone horribly wrong in our nation’s most elite institutions. The average American is picking up on the problem and is going from being deeply worried to outright furious.
As a people, each generation of Americans tried to learn about what made this country great and, however imperfectly, attempted to adhere to these standards. But these traditions have been under siege for over half a century in our schools and in institutions that guide our culture.
Now, once commonly held principles are unacknowledged, or dismissed as backward and unintelligible.
The latest incarnations of counterculture seem to hardly even know what they are opposing and mock the “poorly educated” who have resisted the path of history laid out for them by our betters in academia and the media.
If they don’t understand the concept of God-given rights, how can we trust them to make a distinction between, say, a statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, and the Jefferson Memorial?
The answer is that they can’t, and they won’t.
No wonder so many Americans are ready to grab their pitchforks.
Jarrett Stepman is an editor for The Daily Signal.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Daily Signal.