What holds us together? When our nation endures a bad time, what holds us together?
I was five years old as WWII ended. Our nation had done heroic work—our nation, most everybody. We, along with the few allies left standing after Fascism’s initial brutality, fought back and won. Democracy as clumsy as it can be, won.
We had every right to be proud even while humbled by the bravery of those who fought. Pride and humility; not a bad combination. When pride is not leavened by humility, trouble is ahead.
I am sure by now many of you are asking, “Why are you writing this, Memorial Day has come and gone?” We celebrate it and then move on. I wonder how many of us celebrated, if that is even the right word, by going to a memorial or cemetery in which the fallen were honored and then interred. Is Memorial Day just one more calendar moment valued not for its content but for the day off?
Back then Americans were told we were special. And, we were. Americans became internationalists. They laid down their lives for freedom and then helped Europe and Japan rebuild. Now we are told that back then we talked about equality, but often failed to follow through at home. That is certainly true.
America at any given point is urged to be perfect but we are not; nor will we ever be. But, and this is our history: America, both constitutionally and practically, has always been open to truth-seeking and when we find ourselves, individually or collectively wanting, we have often worked unashamedly to make things right. By the way, this process is always messy.
Of course, “right”, in a sense, is over organized. Rights about guns and birth and academics and gender are often word weapons aimed at those with different views. Noise calls attention to the cause and severity in words and images is used to raise money. Estrangement often results and social media becomes, well, certainly not social.
Recently, critical race theory (CRT) has been urged by some academics and activists as an answer that will lead to a better answer. The theory requires believing that America is systemically racist—all of us (or, at least those who are white) and our institutions. It is a theory that divides. It is a theory that refuses to treat us as individuals, regardless of motivation or actions.
Ironically, the CRT theorists cite evidence of ancient confederate trumpets brought to life now over 150 years after the Civil War as proof of racism. The Confederate cause (right to enslave) has never been right. And, when calls for State’s rights are barely concealed attempts to discriminate a valuable power-sharing asset is compromised and oxygen is given to CRT activists.
We need to do a better job making sure opportunity is available to all and that will require more outreach to those who have fallen behind. But when we look for thoughtful leadership on issues of race we need to draw on Martin Luther King Jr. Recall Dr. King’s dream: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” We need to embrace inclusion, not exclusion and work on our national character.
The Greatest Generation was not perfect. But, they gave us a chance to build a more perfect union. And that is where we should always be aiming. But, as we continue working on the scaffolding for a better union, take a look at world history and be proud to be an American and humbly understand we can always be better.