Since the founding of this great nation, there have been many constant, unwavering ideals - the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, freedom of religion and the right to bear arms. One other unceasing and unyielding element in American life has been our personal right and the right of the government to incur debt - massive debt.
Currently, the national debt stands at $16,957,340,185,479. In case you are wondering, that's $16.9 trillion.
Elkins resident Donald Hansen - whom The Inter-Mountain featured on today's front page - brings about a valid point. How many people in this country even know what $16 trillion looks like in its numerical form?
Moreover, how many people truly know what impact this has upon everyday Americans? As a government shutdown looms this week, many people will find out first-hand what this astronomical number truly means.
From loss of jobs to the loss of the government's ability to obtain loans, the national debt and the current congressional budget battle is more closely linked than many realize.
The debt, though, hasn't always been so staggering.
In fact, in 1835-1836, America had no national debt whatsoever. In the 20 years following the War of 1812, the government had 18 budget surpluses. The federal government was able to overcome the massive debts resulting from the war to pay off the balance entirely in January 1835. From there, though, the debt began to steadily rise. Another war - the Civil War - resulted in a $2.7 billion deficit by the time Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House.
Years of surplus helped to pay down the debt, but war struck again. By the end of World War II, the debt stood at $251.43 billion, or 112 percent of the gross domestic product.
For years, the figure fluctuated between manageable and excessive, finally reaching epic proportions in 2001 - $6.369 trillion - and 2008 - $6.369 trillion.
At $16.9 trillion today, something has to be done.
Hansen, who became interested in the subject a year ago, has the right idea. To start with, he is pushing for education. What does the debt mean to the everyday American? What impact will this have on our future? Why is this number important, opposed to some made-up figure that doesn't really equate to anything in real life?
Unfortunately, we all are finding out what this means as prices rise for consumers, the mortgage industry continues to wane and gas hovers around $3.50 a gallon, never to fall below the $3 mark again.
Without action, the situation will not remedy itself. Education may be the first step, but trimming the fat in the nation's capital is an extremely close second.
Gone should be the days of unbalanced budgets. The budget should not only be balanced, but America's consumer-first, buy, buy, buy attitude must go.
Financially, this country is in bad shape. It is not going to get any better without sacrifices from not only the federal government, but from each and every American citizen.
It's time to economize and not be so free with the precious American dollar.
Hansen put it correctly when he said, "We all need to become a champion, and we all need called to arms to fight this battle. Education, learning more about this and voting are the only ways we have to fight back. This is extremely important for our future - all of us. This problem is not going to go away unless we do something about it now."
Today, The Inter-Mountain fires the first shot in this battle. Each Monday, we will print the total U.S. national debt on the bottom of the editorial page.
If education is the first step, then The Inter-Mountain is going to do its part. We want the everyday American to know how high the debt is and how much it has gotten out of control. Today, the debt is $16.9 trillion. Soon it will be $17 trillion and beyond. We must stop this now and contact our elected officials so that we all can get on the financial road to recovery.