Randy Forbes: Have we fought for this?

randy forbesIn my first column of the New Year, with the sentiment of fresh beginnings on our minds, I find myself thinking back to the very beginning of our history, when our fledgling nation faced a future of two possibilities.

Many of us think of our nation as united after the end of the Revolutionary War. We had won our independence from England and were eager to take our first steps forward as the United States of America. We like to imagine ourselves as a nation that – save some arguments between Founders over the words in our Constitution – walked straightforward into its existence.

But the aftermath of the Revolution was terse and tense. There were widespread disagreements about big deal issues, like philosophy of government and the definition of freedom.  What powers should rest with the people? What was the proper role of a leader in government? What was the true difference between aristocratic and democratic government?

Elite leaders and common patriots alike questioned whether the American Revolution was a mistake. In the midst of the quarreling, George Washington famously lamented:

“Have we fought for this? Was it with these expectations that we launched into a sea of trouble, and have bravely struggled through the most threatening danger?”

Think about that for a moment. The supreme general of the Revolutionary War, the future first President of the United States, questioned whether our very existence as a nation was worth the fight. That is significant. This was anything but an easy time. The stakes were high. The trial was tough. Americans everywhere were questioning.

The concept of the United States of America was a revolutionary idea. It was a radical break from the tradition it came from – and unapologetically so. But it was not without heavy uncertainty. The “shot heard ‘round the world” was just the beginning.  In the tense decision-making that followed, Americans labored hard for our nation.

Yet, in that quarreling, our bedrock beliefs were established: that power belongs with the people, that all are created equal, and that freedom is a God-given right.

Now today we find ourselves at what feels like another significant moment of trial. We know the decisions we make today will dictate the opportunities, future, and freedom of Americans tomorrow. We know the stakes are high. We know the trials are tough. Ours is a struggle that goes back to our roots as a nation. It’s a struggle between those who believe that government knows best and those who believe that strength as a nation is found in individual freedom.

We find ourselves lamenting the same concerns as George Washington:

Have we fought for this? Did our Founding Fathers bravely struggle for the torch of freedom so that we might let it flicker? What would they think of our nation today?

In moments of trial, just as we did in the beginning, we start to question. We question our identity. We look to our origins. We seek to know who we are, then and now.

2016 will be a year of decisions. As a Presidential election year, our eyes as a nation are set squarely on November and it will certainly be a poignant decision. But in moments of trial, when the stakes are high and the questions are tough, we must remember to keep our eyes also on the future — on the impact our decisions today will have on generationstomorrow.

Our nation survived the beginnings because our Founders and the very first Americans had their eyes set on something greater. They looked, not one year into the future, but decades, centuries even. They bravely envisioned a nation that would be a beacon of hope to those around the world. They pushed forward. We have carried that vision.

Have we fought for this? Yes. We fight for this every single day. The challenges, the questions, the struggles – they are worth it because America is exceptional. We are the nation that leaves a better future to our children and grandchildren than the one that we have. Today, many Americans doubt whether, as a nation, we are able to continue to do that. It’s no wonder: sometimes it feels like our country is slipping through our fingers. But we cannot go quietly into the night. We must press on – like the courageous patriots who pioneered this nation – with our eyes to the future. For those early patriots may have been uncertain, but they were brave and determined.

And so I enter 2016 with expectancy, not for this year itself, but with my eyes set on the next decade, our next generations, and a century from now. Because America was worth the fight then and it is worth the fight now.

Randy Forbes represents the Fourth District of Virginia in Congress.


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