One Nation by Glenn Schuckers
“. . . one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” I cannot count the times I have said those words, perhaps so often that I may have lost their meaning. I attended public school for twelve years (there was no kindergarten then), and for every one of the days of those years I, along with my classmates, stood and repeated, “The Pledge.”
Since graduation in 1962, I have attended so many public meetings and ceremonies that I cannot begin to count them, and most of them started off with everyone there, myself included, repeating the Pledge of Allegiance.
But with familiarity comes, as a cliché, contempt, or better still, when we say something over and over again the part of the brain that does the thinking gets disengaged. Maybe it is time to think again about what those words that we have said so often really mean, and maybe a little emphasis will help.
Suppose we highlight the words “one nation.” We are part of one nation. Everyone regardless of skin color, where he or she was born, what religion or lack of religion we practice, or political party we belong to, everyone who was born here or who has been naturalized as a citizen is part of this nation.
If the time comes when we cease to be one nation, we will be on the path to not being a nation.
Regardless of our disagreements, we have to remain one nation. And disagreements are legion. We have had disagreements almost since the beginning of the nation. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had such a violent disagreement that they stopped speaking and writing to each other for years. Jefferson thought Adams favored a return to a monarchy and Adams felt Jefferson would turn the country over to anarchists. Neither one was right, but for years the disagreement lingered until a few years before their deaths both reconciled and renewed their friendship.
But the interesting thing is that all during their years of disagreements, neither accused the other of being disloyal. Each thought the other was wrong but never said he was disloyal.
That is one thing we all need to keep in mind as we continue, and the key word there is “we.”
For some time now, the attitude of the country has been “us”‘ versus “them.” At one time the “them” were immigrants from places like Ireland and Poland and Italy. People who had been in America for one generation were sure that the influx of new immigrants from places like that was going to “steal” their jobs and take over the country.
Then for many years, the “them” were Catholics, and many people thought that the Roman Catholic Pope was going to take over the country. Many men and women, my own maternal grandfather included, were convinced that if John Kennedy were elected, it would mark the beginning of that Roman Catholic takeover.
Later on, it was the anti-war protesters of the Viet Nam War who were the “them.” People were warned that those protesters hated America, and one president called on the “Silent Majority” to come together to save the country from those long-haired, sign-carrying delinquents.
In more recent history, many people have come to see Arabs and Muslims as “them.” The rest of “us” need to come together, we are told, to stem the tide of “them” who want to destroy the country.
We need to keep two American principles in mind, now more than ever.
One, dissent is not disloyalty. The most American principle we should hold dear is our right to dissent. We must be willing to accept the fact that as a nation we have not always been right. We have made and continue to make mistakes, but it is through dissent that we can learn from those mistakes and keep moving toward the goal of “a more perfect union.”
The second, and more important, is that there can no longer be a “them.” If we are to move forward as a nation and as a society, we must all be “us.” As long as there is a “them,” the others with whom we disagree so violently that we cannot or will not see their point of view, we will not fulfill the promise that is the United States of America.
I believe in that promise. I believe that we can be a greater nation than we have been in the past, but so long as we remain mired in the idea that America is only for “us” and we must fight to keep “them” out, we will never meet that goal.
“One nation under God,” is an ideal that we can reach but not until it is truly “for all.”