One Nation, Indivisible
It’s glaringly obvious that the left believes “nation” is a synonym for another six-letter word: racist. And that “nationalist” is nothing but shorthand for “white nationalist.”
This is startling to those of us on the right -- but it is not a new or sudden development. It’s a product of the left’s reassessment over the last 50 years of our national history and our ideals. The implications of this development are immense. It’s one thing to disagree about trade policy, environmental regulation or government’s role in health care. It’s more profound, and disturbing, to realize that liberals no longer share with conservatives a common belief in our unifying creed: the ideas we hold in common that define us as a country.
The United States of America is both a geographic place and a nation. It is composed of 330 million individual human beings living in a variety of configurations in tens of thousands of communities across 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Nationhood, as we understand the concept today, was a new idea in the 18th century. America was a land in which governance would be premised on common principles, not blood or tribe or status. In our case, the Big Idea is respect for each individual human being. This is the moral and intellectual justification for individual liberty and a government based on the consent of the people.
Around the world, other people pledged fealty to their family, their tribe, their god or their leader in lands governed by patriarchs, tribal chieftains, monarchs, or clerics. Here, our loyalty is to the unifying idea that animates our nation: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Not long ago, every American kid’s school day started with these words. On the right, these words still evoke the exceptional promise of America — a nation, as Abraham Lincoln reminded us, brought forth on this continent by our forefathers, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all human beings are created equal.
On the right, we still celebrate these words and the ideals they capture. But self-styled “progressives” view the ideals animating the United States through the lens of what our forefathers practiced, not what they preached: namely, the subjugation of women and enslavement of Africans. To those on the left, pride in our nation’s history and ideals are a hollow harkening back to an age of European white male supremacy.
Consider what each side hears in the words written by Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Is your first thought upon reading this that Jefferson owned slaves? Conservatives hear a timeless ideal of profound humanity toward which our history has progressed. Not that long ago, liberals did as well. Martin Luther King Jr. described our nation’s founding documents – the Declaration and the Constitution – as “promissory notes” to be redeemed by the civil rights movement.
Today’s progressives don’t hear any of that. The whole American experiment is tainted in their depiction. Hence, Kate McKinnon and the good people at NBC felt comfortable broadcasting a sketch last Saturday night smugly portraying a devout Christian conservative woman at Fox News as a racist. Of course she is! Who but a racist misogynist would wish to conserve ideas promulgated by men who practiced racism and misogyny? And only a racist would seek to maintain and enforce our nation’s border against those pledging or seeking to disregard it.
What to do? Can we have a nation in the absence of a common history or a consensus around a unifying ideal? What are these United States of America when so many erstwhile citizens believe “nation” is itself a racist concept? I don’t know what the “progressive” alternative is -- a global confederation of tribes and communities? Can celebrating some differences while disparaging others ever unify us? Is having differences really all we have in common?
I’m realistic enough to know that some of this stuff is ginned up to win elections – and I know that politics, in the old phrase, ain’t beanbag. But trashing national ideals to win at the ballot box seems a dangerous game. Whatever happens in 2020 or other elections, it’s vital that the Constitution remains our roadmap through history: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America...”
The Constitution establishes a process for working out a more perfect Union, it doesn’t fix the terms of a perfect Union. The terms of that Union have changed over time and have indeed trended toward a more perfect Union, which is why it would be wise to stick to it. While each generation has thought itself better than the last, so far at least none has rejected our nation’s process for working toward a better Union.
I lack the words or the wit to convince the “progressive” left not to reject our national ideals despite the failings of those who first espoused them. Nor do Kate McKinnon or her colleagues at NBC have the wit or the wisdom to understand that racism is more in their minds than in the hearts of those with whom they disagree.
Nevertheless, there’s reason to be optimistic that people of good faith on all sides will work through our current differences, as expressed during this election and several more, moving us toward a more perfect Union that confronts new and different challenges along the way. We have done it before; no reason we can’t do it again.