Most of us seem unconcerned about the chaos in Hong Kong. It’s not unexpected, but it’s still quite sad. Thousands of protesters are crowding city streets each week asking for the simple things we too often take for granted: the right to speak freely, to assemble peaceably, to vote for government leaders.

One of the most powerful pictures of the uprising was captured a few weeks ago. It was an aerial shot of a sea of protesters in the middle of an urban canyon. Because it was taken from so far away, it lacked the detail of faces and body images. The only object that was clearly visible was a giant American flag. It was as if the protesters were signaling that, in spite of the tear gas “rockets’ red glare,” the flag of freedom still waved over their own notion of a Fort McHenry.

As I scanned that image, I thought of all those among us who consider America racist. They take a knee to show disrespect for the freedom for which many in Hong Kong are imprisoned. It made me uncomfortable at first, but then made me angry. Has the brilliance of Thomas Jefferson been lost in ignorance?

Even today, our Declaration of Independence remains the world’s most subversive document. It proposes that the power to govern does not come from either a king or the head of the Communist Party. It postulates that government derives its power only from the consent of the governed. In essence, the government has no power and no rights except for those loaned to it by the people to whom all rights were granted by nature and by nature’s God. It is for this 18th century concept that the people of Hong Kong are marching right now.

It all started with an extradition law proposed by Hong Kong’s Communist Party rulers. The law made it possible to arrest dissident residents of Hong Kong and send then to mainland China for trial.

Thomas Jefferson understood such tyrannical tactics and declared them to be intolerable. For instance, it was tyranny according to Jefferson when a government engages in “transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses.” For these residents of that imprisoned province, the spirit of Thomas Jefferson might have also observed, “In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms. (These) petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.”

In short, the residents of Hong Kong are screaming to their masters in Beijing the same words Jefferson wrote almost 2 1/2 centuries ago: “A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

Such struggles remind us that the United States is still the universal beacon of liberty. Our Jeffersonian ideals transcend all races and nationalities. The Asian protesters in Hong Kong are not white. By heritage, they might be considered partly British. But for the most part, they are the embodiment of the Jeffersonian notion that government must begin with the consent of the governed; and, as appended in our Bill of Rights, it can only thrive when all rights not specifically delegated to that government are reserved and guaranteed to be exercised by the people themselves.

Of course, we must all acknowledge what Jefferson himself knew when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. It was, at one level, hypocritical. It failed to acknowledge the equality of slaves, native Americans and women in its overall description of equally created humanity. But the strength of our democracy is that America successfully struggled with that enigma.

Slavery was defeated in the bloodbath of a civil war. Women were given the right to vote and protected from discrimination based on sex. Segregation was outlawed, and couples of the same sex were given the right to equality in marriage.

Perhaps it’s not enough. But neither is it any reason to show a fist or drop a knee when our national anthem is played. Those in Hong Kong are not only respectful to our flag but envy the freedom it represents. The least we can do is to respect their struggle by giving the same respect to the liberty for which Hong Kong residents still risk death.

Contact Robert M. Levy at

(1) comment

Kent Misegades

The Declaration was not hypocritical. In the 18th century slaves were not considered on par with freed men of any color. This was also true in England and other countries such as Brazil. The Founders - especially Jefferson - knew that the issue of slavery would eventually have to be resolved. The more pressing issue at that time was the tyranny of the British rulers. The War of Northern Aggression was not fought over slavery but the end of it was one outcome. It was a battle between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, largely over the need for northern states to continue plundering southern states in order to finance western expansion.

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