Let’s Learn to Be Americans, Again

During a conversation with a friend about the Parkland school shooting, I was struck by something she said: “I’m not a Republican or a Democrat; I’m an American.”

Wednesday’s news was consumed with the aftershock of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooting. The first half of the day was occupied with a “listening session” held by President Trump, attended by parents, teachers and survivors of several shootings. The second half was driven by a remarkable town hall broadcast by CNN.

Both events offered first-person accounts and displayed an incredible resolve for change by Florida students. The two-hour town hall ran the gamut of emotion from inspirational hero accounts to officials struggling to find solutions; from angry shouts to cheers of hope.

The biggest takeaway: something needs to change.

I was encouraged by Senator Marco Rubio who, absent talking points and political veneer, spoke plainly, and many times with clear agreement from the 7,000 in attendance.

“… tonight,” Rubio said in a sober voice, “people who have different points of view are going to talk about an issue that I think we all believe, and that is that this should never [have] happened and it can never again. And if we want to truly ensure that it doesn’t … then we are going to have to find the way — as a nation to work with people that may not agree with us on certain things, without accusing one another of being evil people and my side is as guilty is that of any. …

“You might not like everything I say, or everything I stand for,” Rubio added, “but I want to find a way forward to solve this problem.”

I was moved by Senator Rubio, and how he conducted himself throughout the first hour of a very painful, and at times, anger-filled dialogue.

But I kept coming back to those words: “I’m not a Republican or a Democrat; I’m an American.” 

I think we have forgotten what it means to be an American.

I think we’ve become so isolated and insulated in our own entrenched thinking that we have forgotten who we are and what we stand for.

The issues facing the country today are not just about gun laws, booting out illegal immigrants or banning Muslim refugees from entering our country. The real questions that confront us concern the fundamental values of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

There’s little “happiness” taking place right now, politically or culturally.

What is “liberty and the pursuit of happiness” supposed to look like today?

Are my rights more right than yours? Does my “liberty” and “pursuit of happiness” supersede my responsibility to others?

Why do we always see people from all ages, colors, religious and political backgrounds come together and help one another during natural disasters, but not when we’re pursuing our everyday lives?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to gun violence. It’s a complicated issue and there are no easy answers. But I believe that reasonable answers exist.

I do know that the issues that are confronting us today are not just up to Washington to fix. It’ll take all of us, beginning by connecting with one another under one unifying label: Americans.

It’s up to all of us to learn to find common ground, again. Our Founders did, under extraordinary circumstances. The North and the South did after a war that cost 625,000 lives and almost brought an end to the union.

It’s up to us to listen and reason together, again.

It’s up to us to recognize that, despite our differences, the fundamental beliefs that make us Americans are the shared values of liberty as well as equality and diversity, and that as Americans, we have always demonstrated a boundless optimism and pragmatic resolve to answer our biggest problems.

Let’s learn to be more respectful and less contentious.

Let’s learn to take responsibility more seriously than we take ourselves.

Let’s learn to be Americans, again.

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