I find myself deeply wounded. I cannot believe that of all days, one of these shootings that has now become common in America happened on the 4th of July. I know other holidays have involved the victimization of fellow Americans gathering peacefully–I remember one year it was Christmas, and Christmas seems like it is an even bigger holiday for most people than the 4th–yet today hit hard because it is a day when all Americans, white and black, men and women, Democrats and Republicans, and religious and secular, come together and celebrate the day which commemorates America’s freedom. It is America’s birthday. True, other people in countries like Ukraine suffer because their recently and hard won freedom is at risk due to a common foe, but in America most of us have had our freedom for centuries. We take it for granted that we are free. And apparently, as today shows, we can no longer take it for granted.
Abraham Lincoln said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” Looking at today’s politics I often wonder if our country has become suicidal. I have thoroughly detested Donald Trump, but when I listen to certain moderators on MSNBC, I have heard the same disease of extremism. They point to the time before the Civil War as a time when the anti-slavery movement was seen as “extreme.” This is, sadly, true, but what they do not pause to think about is the fact that for slavery to end took a bloody Civil War which cost more lives than World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined in a four-year time span. Such a War is justified if the cause is indeed as terrible as slavery is to a free people, but if the issues are issues which are only divisive and solve nothing–which is my real feeling about the 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory–why bother put them forward at all? Why is a full-scale attack on the past for its own sake worth it?
One thing we often forget about the Civil War. Though it was a War for the Union and about slavery, its’ human cost was immense. To fight a war in such a way, a person has to be convinced that they are right. That is why I have always believed I admire both sides, and not just the North. I know this sounds perverse: the South represents slavery. Yet I guess I have to say it: most Southerners fighting didn’t own any slaves, and thought they were fighting for their home states. They were just on the wrong side of History. They were wrong, but they fought bravely. And I have always admired the courage it would take to fight in the brutal war which cost us more than any other war in our history. I just can’t see wanting to fight it again. And that is why I urge caution and a willingness to compromise to the left–because as with the Civil War, there is no guarantee that a Civil War, if we had one today, is something the United States would even survive. I have feared that Donald Trump would destroy us as a world power. The extreme left could do the same. The same is true of our economic might, which is so great despite current inflation.
I agree with some left wing issues–I am pro-environment and believe that we need to change our gun laws and how–but I don’t like the tone of the left, and I really have to say that the narcissism that people come out of that convince them to do things like today’s gunman has to be evidence of more than just the need to control the flow of guns. We need to really work on the roots of the problem, too: the need for young people to see the value of human life. We need to see each other as fellows in a common cause, and not just enemies in political battle. We need to have bipartisan politics abroad, and have politics that live up to the proud tradition of the Marshall Plan and rebuilding of Europe and Japan after World War II. We need to embrace new ideas like environmentalism before it is too late for our earth. We need to support Ukraine and bring Jamal Khashoggi’s murderer, the Crown Prince, to justice. We need to reaffirm our alliances with the U.K. and E.U. abroad. Somehow we need to make people feel they are recognized as American even when they don’t have white skin, but at the same time keep hold of the traditions that made America good and not just great.
I once read a definition of democracy that said that democracy existed when a state was working towards the goal of equality, and that the original democracy, Athens in Greece, was a democracy by that standard despite women’s having no rights and slavery. Athens was working towards freedom, and therefore Athens was free. By that standard, the United States was always a democracy, even though it was a flawed democracy under, say, slavery or segregation. Yet if we are honest, there is no person or country who is not flawed. A person is only as good as they are trying to be.
If President Obama loves the Preamble to the Constitution’s words “Towards a more Perfect Union” than I will cite them as being evidence that even in the beginning the American experiment was working towards greater freedom than had ever existed before anywhere. In the ancient world there was slavery and European slavers bought slaves from African and Arab slavers, but in the future would be a culture in which former slaves would have the rights of their former owners. And I will always believe that in George Washington’s and Thomas Jefferson’s hearts, that world without slavery or oppression was what they wanted for America, even if Washington only left his slaves’ freedom in his will and Jefferson had both a slave mistress and his slaves sold because of his debts on his death.