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Opinion: Clarence Thomas says America’s moral compass is broken

Nov 15, 2021


Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas addressed the bitter divisions afflicting the United States of America during a recent appearance at the University of Notre Dame. Using personal stories of his own troubles at a young age, Thomas offered up his vision of what America stands for. In his eyes, the Declaration of Independence remains a beacon for everyone to follow. It is up to the American people, however, to live up to the ideals set in stone by our Founding Fathers.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas in his later years on the Court is beginning to speak out loudly. 

And you can hear deep into his heart and humor during a recent speech at the University of Notre Dame on the topic of the Declaration of Independence.

His presentation was a brilliant and profound articulation of what America is about at its core.  

Thomas not only tells his own personal story and how his experiences led him to understand what America is about, but what led him to conclude that the injustices of the country were not about flaws in the country but about flaws in human beings. What he conveyed to the students there were lessons in how to live up to the founding ideals handed down to them. That what needed to be fixed are the people – not the nation. 

And I hope those students heading into adulthood heard him – as his insight strikes at the heart of the divisions going on today that are so bitterly dividing us.

He discussed how easy it was for him to slide into feelings of victimhood and thus focus on racial differences and grievances as a young man, yet, Thomas said, “As I matured, I began to see that the theories of my young adulthood were destructive and self-defeating ..” Thomas said, “I had rejected my country, my birthright as a citizen, and I had nothing to show for it.”

“The wholesomeness of my childhood had been replaced with an emptiness, cynicism, and despair.  I was faced with the simple fact that there was no greater truth than what my Nuns and grandparents had taught me.  We are all children of God and rightful heirs to our nation’s legacy of equality.  We had to live up to the obligations of the equal citizenship to which we were entitled by birth.”

“The Declaration captured what I had been taught to venerate as a child but had cynically rejected as a young man.  All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”

Despite the strident voices dividing us today, Justice Clarence Thomas observed that there are many more of us who feel America is not so broken, as it is adrift at sea.

He said, “For whatever it is worth, the Declaration of Independence has weathered every storm for 245 years.  It birthed a great nation.  It abolished the sin of slavery…While we have failed the ideals of the Declaration time and again, I know of no time when the ideals have failed us.”

The Declaration of Independence “establishes a moral ideal that we as citizens are duty-bound to uphold and sustain.  We may fall short, but our imperfection does not relieve us of our obligation.”  

Justice Thomas’ message about the Declaration was not just for those Notre Dame students. It is for all of us – summarized: there are eternal truths, they are true for all of humanity, and it is the personal responsibility of each individual to live up to them.

His message is exactly what every American needs to hear in these troublesome and divisive times.

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