America, we’re better than this. We’ve allowed ourselves to be lied to. We’ve been willingly herded into ideological corrals based upon which news channel we watch or which newspaper we read, or in many cases, whether we choose to read a newspaper at all. We’ve accepted the rhetoric of angry demagogues who have labeled us and arrested our ability to think critically about the world. We have accepted those labels and segregated ourselves along false political lines.
We exchange angry messages with strangers of different political tribes on social media, but we no longer talk with our family at the dinner table about important issues because we have lost the ability to think with complexity, to speak rationally, to consider ideas which do not fit the talking points we’ve embraced. We have entrenched ourselves in safe, comfortable spaces, where our assumptions are no longer challenged, and the information we receive is thoughtfully curated to reinforce what we have already decided is true, and to make us feel secure in the political tribe we’ve chosen.
We have allowed ourselves to forget that we are a kind and generous people, which is a virtue and a strength. It does not make us “suckers”, rather it reveals our essential goodness. We are a nation of immigrants who have built this republic into the single greatest country in the history of the world. We too often view our nation’s history through a lens of either mindless patriotism, or damning critique of past sins – there is no middle ground, no room for complex thought. “Kinder and gentler” is a punch line these days.
America, we’re better than this.
Fifty years ago, we landed a man on the moon. It was the culmination of a bold idea and an audacious challenge to do big things, great things, in the name of advancing science and technology, and for the sake of challenging ourselves as a people to be better and to strive. Twenty years prior, an entire generation of soldiers, sailors and Marines came home from the battlegrounds of Europe, having soundly defeated the evil of totalitarianism, liberating an entire race from the ovens of a demented racist. They came back with a voracious energy and a single-minded drive to get on with their lives. The GI Bill sent them to college, and they spent the next several decades transforming our country into the single greatest economy the world has ever witnessed.
America, it’s time to get back to doing big things. It’s time to get back to talking with one another, exchanging thoughtful ideas, turning off the talking heads and rolling up our sleeves to do meaningful work in our communities and beyond. We must embrace our national heritage of leadership on the world stage.
It’s time to reengage with our allies and partners across the globe, to embrace once again the alliances, which have fostered peace and stability across the world for over seventy years. Its time to reject the false pretense of isolationism, and move once again with great urgency and energy into the world, to lend a voice for individual freedom and liberty at a time when totalitarianism seeks a second act.
It’s time cast off the shackles of hyper-partisanship, and to reject the dimwitted ramblings of political provocateurs. It’s time to peer over the fence and shake hands and have conversations. It’s time to strip ourselves of labels and engage in the exchange of ideas, to open ourselves up to intellectual challenge, and to be unafraid of “the other”.
We have painted ourselves into ideological corners, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s time to be complex thinkers, not adherents to the orthodoxy of “red” or “blue”. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. Principled compromise, not scorched-earth politics, is the bedrock of democracy. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
We can support our police forces, honoring the vital and noble work they do in our communities, yet hold them unapologetically to standards of excellence and professionalism. We can support our military, yet demand of our leaders that armed force is used sparingly and intelligently. We can embrace the mantle of world leadership without being the world’s policeman.
We can embrace the words from “New Colossus” inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore” – we can embrace the energy and vitality of the immigrant which has made our country unique in the history of the world – we can show kindness and compassion – yet still develop common sense immigration policy.
We can embrace the Second Amendment, yet enact common sense gun legislation, and seek to address the underlying causes of gun violence. We can be proactive and not reactive in providing meaningful treatment for mental illness.
We can move boldly toward sustainable and clean energy by investing in science and technology. We can and should look toward solutions to protect our environment with all the urgency of a moonshot.
We should expect excellence of ourselves and our fellow citizens, yet provide meaningful assistance to those who fall behind. We can help without judging, hold accountable without dehumanizing, and find ways not to punish, but to rehabilitate, and to reintegrate into society in meaningful ways, with full rights of citizenship for those who earn it.
We can do all of these things and more if we are not afraid to think and strive and accept nothing less from ourselves and our elected leaders. And to quote our 35th President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, we can do these things, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win”.
America, we’re better than this. Now what are we going to do about it?