CONNECTIONS: Who we areMore Info
About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest map to how we got here: America in the 21st century.
“Our country has had the good fortune that, at times of national trial, a few great personalities have emerged to remind us of our essential unity and inspire us to fulfill our sustaining values. John McCain was one of those gifts.”
Thus Sen. John McCain was laid to rest by Henry Kissinger. Expressing the same sentiment, former presidents, vice presidents, family and elder statesmen followed.
If these times cause you unease, remember this: We were always a country diverse and divided. A pitched battle between the royalists and the loyalists founded us. A political battle between the Federalists and the anti-Federalists (interestingly called the Democratic-Republicans) shaped us. A war between the north and the south tested “… whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.”
Throughout, sharply articulated divisions have existed, been debated, but never finally resolved. Those battles shaped our politics and our political parties from that day to this. The divisions were between those who believed in immigration and those who wanted to pull up the drawbridge behind them; those who believe we owe assistance to the less fortunate and those who believe each person must pull himself up by his own bootstraps; those who believe the president’s word is law and those who believe no man is above the law. Unresolved and never abandoned, it is the push-pull between the sides that make America what it is, make our politics what they have been.
If that were all, then this nation would not have endured. The constant division would have become a permanent divide. It did not. As we fought exclusion versus inclusion, strongman versus strong people, the general good versus individual good, even royalists versus loyalists, there was a commonality that united. That commonality was a belief in ideals and a dedication to concepts bigger than ourselves: Out of many, one; all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; no man is an island, and no one is above the law. Regardless of how hot the battle, law and order, common decency, the Golden Rule guided it. In the end, the acknowledgement that we must work together because we have a common investment in our beloved country overrode commitment to any outcome. That is, perhaps, until now.
John McCain’s death, his final words to the nation and the funeral he planned remind us of who he was, who we were and who we are meant to be. It was a clear and clarion call, a warning about what we could lose and must not allow to happen. That reminder is what he intended, based on his conviction that we may be standing on the brink. It was his legacy to us, the thing he meant to leave us out of his hard-won estate.
We are not, and never have been, a nation that does not bring it up and hash it out. We earned that right. In an authoritarian government, you avoid conflict, you fear to disagree with the word of the ruler. We do not. We are a government of, by and for the people. We the people bring it up and do it loudly. We do it passionately, but in good faith and with good grace. We do it best when we do not substitute name-calling for calling the balls and strikes.
Those who decry bringing up an issue, any issue national or local, mistake our history. Anyone who suggests that someone — anyone — does not have the right to air an issue and articulate a position strikes at the heart of our democracy. However …
Anyone who believes we must take a position and hold it regardless of its merit, anyone who can only talk and never listen, those who cannot assimilate new facts because of blind adherence to old beliefs, and those who hate and personally attack all who disagree lose the war no matter the outcome of the single battle.
Much transcends opinion. Facts do. Principles do. Morals and values do. “Our country ’tis of thee” does. When the time comes, stepping up and saving that country does. We buried John McCain, but he would not allow us to bury his belief that this is such a time.
Given what happened September 1, we will lose the ideal of America tomorrow if we do not act today.