I think most Americans would agree that we are presently experiencing a difficult, perhaps even dysfunctional, stage as a nation—far from our best.
It signals the need to return to basics.
We were founded as the United States of America, emphasizing a united people for a democracy. Our founding fathers boldly established a nation built on freedom and equality for all individuals, making us the most diverse society ever created.
One might expect such a society to be torn apart by its extreme differences. In fact, we have continually been able to battle through this human challenge to transform that diversity into mankind’s most creative society.
Presently, American unity doesn’t look pretty or powerful either to the world or to ourselves. But we humans tend to thrive in adversity, and flounder in prosperity. Note the character of Americans in response to the hurricanes and the Las Vegas massacre.
I was privileged to grow up in the adversity of the depression through to being a World War II GI. So I lived in an America strongly united in purpose, perhaps as never before. Our unity, hard work and sacrifice reached a high point on June 6, 1944—D Day—the allied invasion of France.
To indicate how America reacted to this news, I quote from the book “D DAY” by Stephen Ambrose:
“Broadway shut down... The New York Daily News threw out its lead articles and printed in its place The Lord’s Prayer…Stores shut down…Baseball games and racing programs were cancelled…Across the United States…church bells rang…Special services were held…Pews were jammed with worshipers…In Reno, Nevada, the gambling dens closed…”
Clearly, this glimpse of America’s response to D Day reveals the depth of its united cause and how it was able to totally reverse two major wars in four years from a standing start.
So, barring some major adversity, how do we transform from present America’s low level of unity, to the powerful one America experienced in WWII?
I believe we can begin by going back to basics with a deeper examination of the 1st and 2nd amendments to the Constitution: the right to free speech and to bear arms.
Our forefathers, living three centuries before us, naturally perceived these rights in a different reality.
For example, they accepted African-Americans as slaves and thus as their inferiors. This clearly was a compromise of their founding principle of equality. While necessary to form the union, America later was to pay dearly for it with its bloody civil war.
This compromise sloppily allowed Americans to openly express racial biases, which undermine American unity even today, highlighted by White Supremacy, KKK and Nazi groups.
All speech is not free-- like falsely yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater. If we seriously expect to be true to our founding principle of equality, then expressions of racial bias should not qualify as free speech.
Our forefathers lived in an age when colonists and settlers needed guns to protect themselves against outside threats-- Indians, the British, wild animals---plus utilizing them for food.
That is clearly not the case in 21st century America. We have some hunters, but there are huge numbers of owners who like the feeling of power that guns give them.
That feeling works against the development of human empathy and erodes American unity. We had an ultra-extreme example with the Las Vegas Massacre. Compared to 22 other high-income nations, our gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher.
Given NRA’s control over Congress, it will require the American public choosing a unified WWII nation over one in which we have individuals stashing guns to gain individual power.
In 1961, Americans were deeply moved by this statement in John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural speech: “My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
If we are being honest, we have since increasingly become more concerned with our individual rights and what our country can do for us.
Our choice is this: do we want to continue to seek our individual rights and remain a more divided country, or are we willing to examine those rights and even make sacrifices together if it means we can become a solidly united and powerful country once again?
Our species of humans survived and thrived because we depended upon each other from the outset. We Americans will also achieve our greatness by our willingness to sacrifice individually to achieve our creative unity.