After four tumultuous and divisive years, it feels as though we may no longer be the UNITED States of America. It seems like we haven’t been this polarized, this pulled apart, in a long time, at least since the Vietnam era.
But perhaps it’s time to focus on what we still have–or SHOULD have–in common: the values that set us apart as Americans, the values that define us and that we should all hold dear, no matter our party affiliation, no matter whether our candidate won or lost this election.
Before we are Republicans or Democrats or any other subset, we are Americans. We should care less about party affiliation, and care more about what we can accomplish by uniting. Blue or Red, left or right, we are all Americans, and we should all want what is best for the country, and for ALL Americans. We should stop listening to politicians and media that seek to splinter us into warring factions and tribes.
We believe our country IS great, because of the high ideals we aspire to: freedom, equality, opportunity. We recognize that we haven’t always lived up to those ideals, and we have done some shameful things in the past, and, sadly, we still do some of them. We seek to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them as we go forward. We are nowhere near perfect, but we strive to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday. Our trajectory should always be rising. We should be a better country tomorrow than we were today.
We were founded on the notion of rugged individualism. You decide what you want to do, you work hard at it, and if you are successful, you get rewarded for your hard work and risk. We believe in upward mobility. You can achieve what you want to achieve and be successful, so long as you do so honestly and don’t harm others in the process.
We also have a long and strong tradition of pitching in. Pilgrims, pioneers and farmers helped their neighbors. They came together to raise barns, harvest crops and put out fires. This nation of rugged individualists knew that everyone needs a hand sometimes. Today I help you, tomorrow I may need your help. This nation was founded on the value of loving your neighbor. Individual freedom doesn’t mean you turn your back on the community. We help those who need help. If your new neighbor needs help moving in, you grab some boxes and help. If someone in your community is sick, you make them a casserole, or the community pulls together to raise funds to help pay for medical care. It isn’t weakness to lift someone up when they are down. Compassion is strength. Sometimes we help another person one on one. Sometimes we combine our efforts with others through a church or a charity. Sometimes we do so through government–that’s all government is, really: it’s citizens pitching in and helping others.
We believe in science. We are always learning, always discovering. That’s how we developed the airplane, the automobile, how we eradicated polio, how we put a man on the moon, and invented the personal computer and the internet. We experiment, we try, we test, we learn. And we pay attention to the scientists and experts who have studied and experimented more than we have. Knowledge is a good thing.
Americans are action-oriented. We work. We see problems, and we find ways to solve them. Individuals, companies, and governments are all seeking to solve problems, overcome obstacles, move us forward. We believe in pragmatism and efficiency.
In America, we are all free to live our lives how we want. The Constitution clarifies that we are endowed by our Creator with the right to pursue happiness how we see fit–provided we don’t harm others or infringe upon their rights. Do what you want to do, love who you want to love, believe what you want to believe. But one person’s happiness does not require that another person suffers. Live and let live.
We believe that governments are necessary, and it is vital that they be effective and efficient. While we cherish the rights and powers of the individual to live as one chooses, there are some things that individuals cannot or should not do alone. The individual cannot defend the nation from foreign attacks. The individual cannot maintain streets or educate children or do a thousand other things. That is why we have elected through our democratic process representatives at the municipal, county, state and federal levels do act in certain roles on our behalf. And we willingly pay taxes to fund these necessary services. Government is not supposed to do everything of course; the Constitution sets limits on its powers, Government can help, when necessary–and should be as small as practical, as effective and as efficient as can be. Those things we want government to do, it should do well. Americans do not want to live without government, but we do not want to be ruled by it, either.
We firmly believe that all people are created equal and are entitled to equal treatment under the law. No one should get special privileges because of their wealth or race or gender or religion, nor should anyone suffer discrimination or face extra burdens or obstacles because of the same. This is not controversial and is not open to discussion. We are a nation that accepts all. And the laws and system should treat all the same. But we realize that not everyone will have equal outcomes. Everyone is unique and different, we all have different skills, talents, and abilities. We take different risks and have different work ethics and luck.
We are and always will remain a capitalist country. We believe in and support free markets, free enterprise, free trade, and fair competition. The government is not in the business of telling people what business they can or should be in, nor should it be picking winners and losers.In the USA, you are free to start your own business, you are free to innovate, and you have the freedom to fail. As citizens, we can and should strongly support our neighbors’ small businesses, which is where most people are employed. Big businesses should not expect nor receive much help from the government.
We have always been and should always be a melting pot. We welcome people from all over the world, We encourage them to come here legally and live the American Dream. We should remain the shining beacon, that city on a hill that people long to reach. We should streamline our immigration process and welcome those who wish to come here, assimilate into the U.S. while simultaneously honoring their heritage. We know that diversity is a strength, not a weakness. America is richer and more vibrant because we are a nation of immigrants, people who have come here from every possible shore, in search of a better life.
Our Constitution guarantees us freedom of speech, freedom of the press to investigate and report facts, and the freedom to exchange ideas. With that freedom, some people will inevitably lie or say ugly and offensive things. You are still free to express your opinions–and with social media we all have more ways to do that than ever before. But people are also free to shoot down your opinions, to attack them, deride them, fact-check them, and to call them out for being incorrect, irresponsible, racist, etc. In America, we speak our minds. We are often direct, blunt, and informal. But we do not have to be rude, insulting or hostile. We are also free to choose civility; we can decide to disagree without being disagreeable.
We believe in the freedom to practice whatever religion one chooses, so long as you are not harming someone else. This country was settled by people who wanted to practice their religion without persecution. You can believe what you want to believe, worship as you see fit, and you are just American as anyone else. If you choose not to believe, that is also your freedom of choice. While the United States was founded by Christians with Christian values and a common belief in the Protestant work ethic, and that is all undeniably part of our collective history and cultural fabric, we are not by any definition an exclusively Christian nation. It is much more important that we be a moral nation, full of good people who seek to do what is right–irrespective of creeds..Though this has been severely put to the test recently, we are a nation of people who believe in the Rule of Law. We must always seek to have good and fair laws that are applied equally and protect the rights of all citizens. We must have good people in government seeking to make and implement and uphold these laws, and we believe all private and public individuals and entities are to be held accountable under the law. No one is above the law, not presidents or Congress people, not billionaires or police, not anyone. We believe government power is limited by our national and state constitutions.
We are a country of innovation and invention. From mobile phones to the internet, traffic lights to GPS, many great things have been invented right here that have changed the world for the better. We believe in change. We like change–change is often (but not exclusively) positive. Change requires that we adapt, change how we do things, maybe give some things up that are obsolete and step out into the unknown. That’s how we grow, both as individuals and as a society. Progress is good. Stagnation is bad. We have changed a great deal over the past 245 years, and we will–we must–continue to grow, adapt and progress as we move forward.
A fiercely independent people, we like to be left alone (although we haven’t always done a good job at leaving others alone), but we stand up to bullies wherever they may be in the world. We believe in justice (even if we sometimes get it wrong). We are not warmongers, but we fight when we have to, when it’s the right thing to do. We help our allies and we stand up to threats. We don’t turn our back on the world. While “America First” sounds good, it’s very easy for that to morph into “America Alone.” We’re all in it together. The world is a better, stronger, safer place when decent democracies stand together, trade together, and cooperate with each other.
We believe in law and order. We absolutely hate mob rule and chaos and violent anarchy. That is not who we are. We are a nation of laws and we believe in the Rule of Law. Play by the rules. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. No one is above the law. If you harm others, there are consequences. We also believe in compassion and fairness. Anyone can make a mistake, but you are more than your mistakes. We believe in redemption and second chances.
We love this land. We are all about constant improvement. As Baden Powell taught his scouts long ago, “try and leave this world a little better than you found it.” We want to do the same. That means we respect the land, the environment, we seek to have clean air, clean water, healthy soil and a vibrant ecosystem. We believe in conserving the most beautiful parts of nature so they remain beautiful and so all of us can enjoy them. We believe that harming our environment is harming each other, and we are not jerks.
>We are an optimistic people. While we revere our past and what made us who we are, we are forward-looking. We believe our best days are yet ahead of us. Rather than being stuck on tradition, we dream about the best possible future, and then work to achieve it. Where we are going is more important than where we have been, or who we came from. There are always things that we can–must–change. If something isn’t working the way it should, we put our collective heads together and figure out a way to fix it.
We look back–not just on the last four chaotic, divisive, destructive years, but on the last decades–and we believe, we KNOW, that we can and must do better. We should be better than hatred and division, better than ignorance and indifference, better than disease and death and deception. We need better leaders, better political parties (or better still, NO parties), better media. But we need to BE BETTER CITIZENS. All of us. We need to love our neighbors, even if they are in a different party or speak a different language or are in a different tax bracket. And we need to be more informed, more thoughtful, and more empathetic. We need to think about the consequences of our choices and votes, and stop letting others manipulate our emotions.
We can and we will bounce back from this crisis, as we have many other crises in the past. We made it through a Civil War where the country nearly tore itself in two over the evil of slavery. We made it through the 1918 Flu pandemic. We survived two world wars, as well as the divisive Vietnam/Watergate/civil right era. We have endured economic hardships and disastrously bad leaders before. We can survive this era as well, if we pull together and focus on the values that unite us, rather than the ideologies and culture wedges that divide us.
If only. For one thing, Democrats do not believe America is great (the test is if you believe that American greatness is based in who’s in charge, or if you believe that certain fundamental changes are required before American greatness). Democrats certainly do not believe in “rugged individualism” (too much WMC). Democrats don’t believe in science (for instance, genders other than male and female). Democrats certainly don’t believe in freedom to live your life however you want. And we have seen selective love of “law and order” (Trump supporters bad, BLM and Antifa good).
So pardon the skepticism. We haven’t been united since 9/11. And nothing is going to change that.