Little is more quintessentially American than asserting the right to change course.
The Declaration of Independence hinges on this passage from lawyer, advocate, president, and slavery investor Thomas Jefferson:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” —Thomas Jefferson
The establishment of the United States changed the course of all of the peoples on this land, natives and settlers alike.
Settlers declared their right “to alter or abolish” long-distance governance from the old world on the far side of the Atlantic.
And over the generations, many indigenous people across the Americas have rejected the legitimacy of the new nation, built as it is on bad faith, broken agreements, and “civilization,” or cultural assimilation.
A few years before Jefferson wrote, another Revolutionary pamphleteer acknowledged the “fraud, force, or accident” often used to keep power in the hands of a few and away from democracy, “the government of all over all.” Fraud, force, and accident are among the tools that the new United States used to hold back the full outworking of revolution and the equality and flourishing that were embedded like yeast in Jefferson’s words.
New ideas and ways of doing things threaten the way things are. They mess with customary channels of power and influence, and it’s therefore easy for systems to disincentivize procedural or substantive change as much as possible.
“If you don’t like it, leave” becomes a common taunt of change-resisters in religious groups, social clubs, and public life, because power never likes innovation bubbling up outside of its control.
Rhetoric like that is not only rarely effective; it also struggles against this fundamental and resilient feature of the American project: the asserted right to change.
And it’s especially ironic in groups (like Seventh-day Adventism) that began on this land, were shaped in the context of the emerging United States, and affirmed the political philosophy that launched the new nation.