Today we celebrate Presidents' Day, a federal holiday in which Americans honor and reflect on past leaders of our great nation. It is a time to celebrate all those who have served as president of the United States, our country's highest elected office. As we reflect on the presidents past — particularly those who founded our nation — I wonder whether they would recognize the overreaching, centralized system of government we operate under in 2016.
When our founders established our country, they envisioned a decentralized government that protected our God-given rights and was founded on the principle of self-governance. They risked their lives, fortunes and honor to create the greatest nation the world has ever known — based on the idea of limited government involvement in the everyday lives of Americans. They were also weary of centralized power, creating the 10th Amendment to restrain the federal government's insatiable desire to expand and grow. In recent times, our country has veered too far from this vision of government.
The federal government's over-involvement in our daily lives can be seen nearly everywhere we look today. There are more than 1 million federal regulations on the books, and the tax code is over 70,000 pages. States' rights are being trampled, executive overreach has run rampant and failing entitlement programs are causing our debt to skyrocket. This has stifled innovation, limited our economy's ability to grow, led to unsustainable deficits and restricted our individual freedoms as Americans. It's no wonder voters in early primaries are looking outside the ranks of traditional candidates as a means to express their frustrations with Washington. Today's government is a far cry from what our founders envisioned.
The good news is we haven't veered so far that we can't get back on track: If we begin to act now, we can turn our country around and return to the ideals our founding presidents believed in. But it will require leaders in Washington to begin making tough decisions. We must address the big items now if we are going to restore our founders' vision for our country. We simply can no longer afford to ignore the challenges facing our nation.
First and foremost, we must begin to rebuild Americans' confidence in government. Less than 20 percent of Americans today trust government to be honest and do the right thing all or most of the time. Too often, Washington governs from crisis to crisis, only to come up with temporary solutions that grow government even bigger and make our debt even greater. This unsustainable system of governing rightly frustrates our citizens. Rather, the focus must be on the important issues that will shape our country's future. The American public understands, and is sending a strong message.
In 2026 — just one decade away — the United States will celebrate its 250th birthday. When we get to that point, what do we want our country to look like? I do not believe it is the complicated, overreaching bureaucratic mess we are in today. Rather, I have some different ideas, based on the principles of our founding fathers:
In 2026, recognizing that the primary purpose of the federal government is the defense of our nation, we want a renewed and invigorated national defense strategy that defends against those who wish to do us harm.
In 2026, we want a tax system which invites economic growth, instead of destroying it. It must be a tax system that takes only what is necessary — not more than required for the purpose of redistributing wealth.
In 2026, we want to offer more freedoms to innovate, not more bureaucracy and rules that inhibit creativity. Congress, not the executive branch, must once again be the legislative body.
In 2026, we want a sustainable plan in place to care for those who cannot take care of themselves — the very young, and the very old.
In 2026, we want to reinforce the value of locally providing quality education for our children, because they are our future.
If we do not begin to act now, the country our founders entrusted to us may be lost. When we celebrate our 250th birthday in just 10 years, I hope to join my fellow Americans in looking with great pride in what we have accomplished, and all we are able to pass on to future generations. If our founding fathers were here, we would want them to join us in knowing their vision of a limited, decentralized government is still a success.
In my home state of South Dakota, we have great respect for the men who have served in the nation's highest office — so much so that we carved a mountain to celebrate their accomplishments. While Mount Rushmore has become an iconic symbol honoring some of our most influential presidents, we must also honor them in our actions as a nation. We can do so by continuing to work with the same fervor as those we honor in the granite faces carved on this mountain. This Presidents' Day, may we all pledge to work toward creating the country these mere mortals envisioned: a republic serving and protecting the individual citizens' rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Mike Rounds is a U.S. senator from South Dakota. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.