The Unfinished Story of Us
As we approach an election under a cloud of political divisiveness perhaps not witnessed since the Civil War -- where even friends seem to become enemies, and where the Internet, which was supposed to bring us together, has instead given everyone a platform to voice their disdain and even their hatred for their fellow Americans -- it is with sadness that I offer the following thoughts
I hope that, at least for the next few minutes while you read this column, you’ll regard my argument as one that seeks to benefit the nation as a whole.
America has often been called the great experiment because, against the backdrop of a new and unspoiled land, our founding fathers sought to create a nation built on a framework that held the people at the center of its power. While the experiment had a beginning, it continues to exist today without an end. We are a work in progress. And yet so many of us now behave with the hubris of imperial dominance, the hubris that comes with believing that we are exceptional, the hubris that has led to the internal decay of all empires that have come before us.
Whatever your political leanings, I propose this singular idea. Stop believing America is an exceptional entity. We are a story still being constructed with both good and bad. We are, like everyone else in this world we share, people fraught with imperfections. And as a result, this construct, our nation, reflects our weaknesses as well as our strengths. As we should teach our children, we are judged not by words or rhetoric, but by our actions alone.
We should not expect to receive credit or blame for the deeds of our forefathers, rather that we will be judged by what we do as a nation during our time. I repeat, “during our time.” We, the current people of America, deserve no acclaim for 1776 or 1865 or 1933 or 1945, but will be judged only by what mark this generation leaves on history.
Recognizing that we deserve no credit for the callouses on the hands of previous generations, or the blood they spilled to ensure that we could continue to build a nation that could honestly and proudly be held up as an example of what is possible when a society is founded on humanistic ideals, should be a humbling thought.
But I believe we have come up short. And if we hope to honor the sacrifices of those who came before us, there is much more we need to accomplish to ensure the grand American experiment is not a failure.
Too many of us seem to believe that our place as the greatest society in history is already secure. If it weren’t for the fact that such arrogance now threatens the continuing existence of our republic, such beliefs would border on laughable. The hindsight of history is often unkind and I can assure you that while Americans of 1776 or 1945 may have a safe place in history, how we as a whole will be viewed through the eyes of our posterity has yet to be determined.
While it may seem implausible, it is not beyond reason that America could end up as another cautionary tale of a grand idea that was never fully realized. I believe that accepting that we are a work in progress will provide a framework of humility that has been lost, humility that will make us try harder and that will make us care for something more than only our immediate self interest. My hope is that viewing ourselves through the lens of both past and future history will help us understand that we owe more to both our forefathers and our children than we have thus far delivered.
In 43 days this election will be over and half of us will look toward the future with optimism, while the other half will despair that we are on the road to ruin. But regardless of how you cast your vote, the truth will remain that half a nation can never make us whole. All of us will continue to be part of the same grand experiment, the same unfinished story. It is a story that we all must write together and the ending of which is still very much in doubt.
It is the unfinished story of America. It is the unfinished story of us.
[NOTE: On occasion, intellectually inclined readers of my column have reached out to me and we’ve enjoyed engaging dinner conversation with a small group. If such a dinner gathering interest you, ping me with your city and LinkedIn profile at [email protected]. Please no smankers]
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]