Something’s changing in our country, and I’m dismayed. Over the last year or so, we’re losing the expectation that we will demonstrate basic respect for each other in public discourse. No group is completely clean on this, and there’s a reason that politics has long been called “dirty”. But we’re seeing a steep slide that needs arrested. A friend once told me that “words matter”…he was right.
If you don’t believe words matter, ask a child who’s just been bullied. If you don’t think words matter, ask someone who’s fighting depression. If you’re unsure if words matter, study Nazi history and see how a nation was manipulated to ignore (and even commit) atrocities against their fellow citizens.
America has always been a beacon of hope and optimism for the world, Reagan’s “shining city on a hill”. But we are rapidly turning into a mean and nasty place, where insults take the place of meaningful debate on how to make our great country even better, for all of its people. We, the people, must halt this decline. We must demand better from our public figures. We can do better…we deserve better…we are better than this.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
Many Americans range from dismayed to disgusted to depressed by this year’s presidential election…I’m one of them. It’s easy to be discouraged and want to abstain from the process altogether from fatigue or in protest. But the circus this has become makes it critical to fight the urge to stay home with a glass (or bottle) of wine and feel sorry for us all.
Half the country is angry at the status quo and wants change. The other half is angry that a candidate who routinely makes racist and sexist comments is this close to leading our nation. We’re more polarized than ever. But I’ve always ascribed to the notion that if you don’t vote, you don’t have much right to criticize after the fact. Exactly because we’re so polarized, it’s even more important this year to vote. No matter what happens on November 8th, half of us will still be angry. But November 9th will come, and then the 10th, and we will have to move forward.
America has always been a country of vigorous debate, as designed by our constitutional division of powers and right of free speech. We debate, we argue, we even get angry, but when the chips are down or there’s a threat to our nation, for brief moments of time, we come together as one America. That’s my hope for November 9th and beyond…that when this whole, ugly election is behind us, that we’ll remember that we are all still Americans.
Our best hope for that is ensuring that every single one of us who is eligible to vote…does. We need to know on the morning after that every voice was heard. We need to know that the result–whether we’re happy about it or not–is a defiant declaration that our democracy still works, if far from perfectly. Please register to vote and play your part in pushing our democracy forward. The deadline for voter registration in Arkansas is October 10; in Kansas and Minnesota, it’s the 18th. Info and deadlines for other states are available on rockthevote.com. Most states let you register and even vote by mail, so there’s little excuse. Then please don’t stop there–the country will need us all to come together and to agitate and to hold our elected officials accountable afterward. After all, that’s who we are: we’re Americans.
“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.” –John F. Kennedy
I am a flag-flying Mennonite. I don’t know if that sounds like a contradiction, but it is. The distinguishing characteristic of Mennonites, an Anabaptist faith, is pacifism (conscientious objectors, or CO’s). Mennonite history is one of persecution and immigrations in a constant search for governments which would tolerate their unwillingness to serve in the military. They were difficult to find. For a time in the 18th and 19thcenturies, the Russian government welcomed the German and Prussian natives, in exchange for a tax. Eventually the Russian political winds changed, and they were no longer welcome, setting off an immigration which changed American history with its introduction of winter wheat to the prairie states. The two World Wars challenged the new immigrants and their descendants, many of whom still spoke the language of their ancestral country which was now at war with their new homeland. Many found ways to serve their new country via alternative service, while others like my grandfather were not allowed to based on fears that their loyalty would be with the enemy. Decades later, I listened to stories in our church community of persecutions of Mennonites in America during World War II, including the tarring and feathering of a local man by a mob. His life was saved when the sheriff locked him up in the county jail until the mob cooled off. I remember as a child that my grandfather flew the American flag every day, but until I was an adult I didn’t realize this was his way of showing his patriotism, having been denied the opportunity to serve his country in the military. I also didn’t know until I was grown that the Mennonite faith doesn’t condone flying flags or even saying the Pledge of Allegiance, as these practices are considered too close to worshipping a nation instead of God. As I learned these aspects of my history, I faced my grandfather’s dilemma. I guess I have drifted too far from the purity of my ancestors’ faith: we fly an American flag. I do so partly for love of my country, but I think I do so as much a salute to my grandfather and to my heritage and to the multitude of immigrants this country was built on. And yet I remain a Mennonite…and a patriot.
“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” —John F. Kennedy