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 as 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 the 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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7 comments… add one

  • Kat Mathis February 23, 2018, 6:32 am

    Well spoken. I wish we had a President, Congress, and Senate that cared enough to unite people instead of insulting, belittling, or dividing us. We are at our greatest when we come together.

  • Gary Lange February 23, 2018, 10:21 am

    Yes, we are all Americans, and a friend at dinner last night said she wanted “Her America” back. Agreed!

  • Jean von Wittenburg February 23, 2018, 3:48 pm

    Concise and definitely to the point without extra ‘enhancements’! We are all Americans and that’s the important thing….make our country ‘great ‘ and strong again!
    Jean

  • Major John Baldwin MD February 23, 2018, 6:13 pm

    Gee, Gary, what America does she want?

    The one I grew up in where 19-year-olds (I know two) who flew B-17 bombers over Schweinfert Ball Bearing factory in 1944, in which my Dartmouth roommate and I hunted in New Hampshire and had shotguns and deer rifles (with parental letter to Dean Morse) in their dorm closets…and NEVER thought of shooting Prof. Robinson for my D in calculus. THE DIFFERENCE IS THE PEOPLE. Cut it how you may, you “kids” never knew maturity, patriotism, responsibility or discipline. It is NOT racial…it is DETERIORATION of Morality. JIM calls it ETHICS. His blog is FOREVER, as he is bailing out a SINKING SHIP. Enjoy GARY….Dr. J

    • Gary Lange February 24, 2018, 2:22 pm

      Dr. Baldwin, I absolutely do respect your service and medical degree. I grew up on a farm in the midwest and hunted deer and shot problematic rodents.

      Since I received my Ph.D. thirty years ago, I have also seen the deterioration of the family and ethics in some. However, at their core, most are wonderfully supportive and do care for others. I am optimistic that we are on a path of improvement and growth.

  • Amanda Milling February 24, 2018, 5:50 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts on this Jim! We are in desperate need for civil discourse consisting of critical thinking individuals working toward solutions for the betterment of all. My one tweak is that I do not identify simply as democrat, republican, or American — I am human, and that is what unites us all, our humanity not our nationality.

  • Colman McCarthy February 26, 2018, 5:00 pm

    Once again, Jim comes through with an essay laced with clear thinking and, in these days of divisiveness, great relevance. Sorting out the clamorous cant-mouthed by pseudo patriots, and pretentious nationalists can be exhausting, which is why Jim’s call for pausing a bit is needed.

    It’s bracing to be reminded that we are first of all Americans but, if I may, I’d rather go a bit further — as when I call myself not an American but an Earthian, and trying to answer the call to walk gently on the Earth.

    Note: Colman McCarthy is a former Washington Post columnist, long-time peace activist, recipient of the El-Hibri Peace Education Prize and heads The Center for Teaching Peace in Washington, D.C.

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