it’s been 240 years since “our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
now we are engaged in a election year, testing whether this nation can long endure the fragmentation and factionalism we have openly cultivated. in two months we will meet to decide the person who will serve as our executive representative. our votes will signify a belief that that person is best equipped to solve the problems we have long lamented, a belief that that person is the best choice to allay our fears.
fear, wrote alexander hamilton in one of his articles for the federalist, could motivate the citizens of a nation to “destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.” i wonder what more hamilton might have had to say on the subject had he been given a clear vision of the current presidential election.
i began to think, just last night, that the attacks of september 11, 2001 were less an attack on the freedom of this nation and more an attack on our fears for our safety. some of our freedom has been restricted, yes. we can no longer carry liquids onto planes; we have argued over the constitutionality of telephone surveillance.
but our fundamental freedoms, the unalienable and constitutionally protected rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, remain unthreatened and unchanged. what has changed, instead, is our willingness to succumb to fear, our willingness to shackle ourselves to either of two people who have shown and proclaimed no scruples in regards to foreign intervention and domination.
we would hand over our liberty, in the shadow of an attack whose aftermath was never realized as the threat it purported to be. we would let our fear fuel blind hatred and consequently our votes.
we have already seen fear in policymaking erupt disastrously: the founding fathers themselves chose, rather than dealing once and for all with slavery, to define a black man as 3/5 of a white man and leave the slavery question to the next generation. and that deliberate decision not to confront the moral injustice before them resulted in the bloodiest war of our history, ruptured a nation, decimated the population, destroyed an entire region, and has never been fully laid to rest, if the enduring presence of confederate flags can serve as any evidence. in short, their determination to avoid provoking a rift among the states 240 years ago has profoundly affected race relations today.
i do not want to hand my children the mistakes of my generation. how much less must i want to hand my eight-times-great grandchildren those mistakes? and so we must confront the fears and apprehensions of our day, rather than letting them rule us.
this means we must get to know those who we believe to be different than ourselves. if we believe that all persons are made in the image of God or even simply that all persons have equal status under the law, then we must act accordingly. it means we take up for our brothers and sisters even when their affliction is not our own.
it means we welcome syrian refugees, because our country was founded on the conviction that people should be able to live free of persecution. it means we commit to dismantling a system that tramples over black lives, because our country was founded on the conviction that all persons are created equal. it means we refuse to let our fear decide our vote and color our conviction, because our country was founded on the belief that the states, and by extension its people, when united, were strong. citizens, wrote george washington in his farewell address in 1789, “by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.” our unity cannot be disrupted or fragmented by the determination of the hate we hold to make monsters of those in whom we do not see ourselves reflected.
since we decry the hate that motivated the attacks on our nation on that long-ago september day, let us likewise decry the hate that we would cultivate as a response. let us decry the hate we have perpetuated for centuries. let us decry the hateful rhetoric we have heard for months.
instead, let us remember. let us remember black smoke from a gleaming building, framed by a clear blue sky. let us remember those who died on the planes, in the towers, on the ground. let us remember the first responders who worked tirelessly and sacrificed their lives for their neighbors and countrymen.
but let not their sacrifice have been in vain. “it is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. it is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave their last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”