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On America’s Birthday, We Celebrate the Incredible, Flawed Men and Women who Shaped It

I’ll never forget the first time we brought our youngest son, Johnny, to see Mt. Rushmore. He was two at the time, and we were on a family road trip. We pulled up to Mt. Rushmore in the evening, after a long day of driving. As we walked up the hill, the older siblings were enthralled at the great faces ahead of them. Johnny, on the other hand, seemed happy just to be out of the car, and unhappy everyone was focused on Mt. Rushmore instead of him.


When we finally got to the top, Johnny stopped in his tracks and stared at the monument. After a long pause, he finally turned to me and asked, “who are those guys?” As a toddler, Johnny didn’t see a shrine honoring the many accomplishments of the great leaders that came before us, he simply saw the faces of four men.


Too often, we forget that the men and women that have come together to make our country what it is today were humans. And, like every single one of us, they were not perfect. They made mistakes. But, they also did incredible things to make our country what it is today. They sacrificed their lives, led us through war, fought against slavery, and wrote our Constitution to allow for equality and justice for all Americans. If not for their hard work and sacrifices, we wouldn’t have a country to celebrate this Fourth of July. And because of this, we honor them – in statues, monuments, memorials and even mountain carvings – despite their imperfections.


During these difficult times, when some are trying to destroy our sacred symbols of freedom and democracy, we must remember that there are a lot of good people in our history who may not have been perfect, but they did remarkable things in order to create a more perfect union. We owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. We shouldn’t take that away from them because of their flaws. That is not to say no monument or statue should ever be removed. I believe that there are certain circumstances, when done properly, in which it may be appropriate to rename or remove an entity. But the vast majority of our country’s leaders deserve to be honored for their roles in creating the greatest, freest, most prosperous country in the world. If we only had monuments of people who are perfect, we would only ever have monuments of statues of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


That doesn’t mean we redefine our history. It means we celebrate it for what it is, and learn from it moving forward. Just 15 miles from Mt. Rushmore is the Crazy Horse Memorial. The spectacular carving recognizes Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota leader who gave his life defending his people’s land. He was a warrior who stood up for what he believed was right. We must continue to honor leaders like Crazy Horse as we learn from our history and work together to make our country even better than it is today.


As Americans, we have so much to be proud of throughout our history. While our country isn’t perfect today, it is the most perfect system of government that has yet existed. As we strive to make improvements to our country, succeeding generations will find that even our most sincere efforts to make our country better will fall short. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, just as those four guys on the mountain tried to do, and just as Crazy Horse tried to do. Everything we have today, we owe to the men and women, including those in uniform, who came before us. Despite their imperfections, we will continue to honor the individuals enshrined on these mountains that tell the story of our country. This is especially important as we celebrate our freedoms and liberties this Independence Day.