Essex column: Let’s remember, this land was made for us all
“This land was made for you and me,” Woody Guthrie wrote.
“Get out of my country,” Adam Purinton is reported to have screamed in a suburban Kansas City bar in February as, authorities say, he shot and killed an engineer from India and wounded two others.
“If they think they are going to give you your country back without a fight, you are mistaken,” presidential adviser Steve Bannon told the Conservative Political Action Conference the day after that shooting.
On this Independence Day, celebrating our nation’s founding, I’m going to side with Guthrie.
It’s not your country, Steve and Adam. It’s ours, my country and your country, and our political system is designed to allow us to live together under a common set of rules.
My hopes for the United States of America and the things I learned to value growing up in our country may differ from yours. That doesn’t make your hopes and values any less valid than mine.
Those who disagree with me are not enemies, but that notion is being fueled for profit and political advantage by news outlets, websites and certain activists and organizations.
It is not new that Americans have differences, including sharp ones based on passionately held positions.
Nor is it new that a few dangerous and deranged people on the fringe — such as Purinton and James Hodgkinson, the Bernie Sanders supporter who opened fire at a congressional Republican baseball practice last month — lurch into violence.
It is new to this century that on a landscape parched by partisan media and unprecedented advocacy spending, pitiful role models light fire to what was our fertile common ground.
Too many leaders in positions that call for heroism, or at least grown-up leadership, simply stand and watch the flames. This tells followers that it’s OK to strike more matches, particularly using white-hot language on social media that we never would use in person.
This is burning our civility to a crisp.
Yet our history shows that we have shared values whose roots should be deep enough to survive the conflagration.
I believe that at its core and in citizens’ hearts that our country:
• Welcomes immigrants and wishes to live up to the credo on the Statue of Liberty. Our political system should work to fix what both parties and most Americans agree is a broken immigration system.
• Is proud of its incomplete progress toward true equal rights for all and continues to keep its eyes open to bias.
• Respects women in every way.
• Lifts up its children through public education. It values learning — as our intellectual Founding Fathers very clearly did — and promotes educational opportunity for all. How many of us have good lives today simply because of this single attribute of America? We should be able to agree, based on personal experience and history, that our public schools are the nation’s greatest social and socialization program ever. We should build them up, not turn to exclusive alternatives.
• Values learning, science, the arts and our cultural heritage. Goodness, if we can’t be inspired by what the government has collected at the Smithsonian, we are lost.
• Wants clear air, clean waters and to preserve our public lands. We have worked for decades, with Republicans often leading the way, to achieve these things.
• Values entrepreneurialism and economic opportunity. This can apply to the business case for a green economy that, climate debate aside, can save money, create jobs and protect health. Just as we were able to apply science and ingenuity to gain the upper hand in space over the Soviets, we should not cede this opportunity to the Germans and Chinese.
• Wants to make it easy for all of its citizens to vote.
• Is essentially optimistic, an attitude rooted in our pioneer spirit. Our ancestors who pushed west and settled untamed land could not afford to be driven by fear.
• Is compassionate toward all and supports fundamental dignity for the infirm.
• Should be a leader in the world, a friend to longtime allies and a rational voice in international disputes.
A Frenchman I met on my Amtrak trip to Chicago last week said he was baffled by what he sees as America today turning away from its moral leadership role.
“You always were a beacon for the world,” he said, a liberal European echoing the Pilgrims’ and Ronald Reagan’s positive and proud call for the United States to be a shining city upon a hill.
The values that made America so, the ingenuity, potent work ethic and fearlessness remain. They are neither Democratic nor Republican values. They are our values, all of us.
On this American birthday, I pray for us to remember that this land was made for you and me.
Randy Essex is editor and publisher of the Post Independent.
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