Probably the most profound loss America is currently experiencing revolves around what is happening to our country's vision of itself.
As a nation of immigrants we welcomed the least whose hope brought them to our shores. When my great-grandfather disembarked from the ship carrying him and his brothers to this land, they were welcomed as partners in a troubled world. The United States had saved them from the storms brewing in Germany.
Even acknowledging our country’s dark chapters of slavery and segregation, aggressive wars, urban and rural poverty, and more, in our most troubled hours leaders have lifted us to a nobler vision.
In 1861, as the nation was being torn apart by the ominous threat of a civil war, a newly elected president in his inaugural address tried to raise America's eyes beyond division. “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature,” Abraham Lincoln said.
Following December 7, 1941 – a date that will live in infamy – Franklin Roosevelt addressed the American people with the words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Ronald Reagan rallied the nation by employing a biblical vision of America as “A city set on a hill.”
No hero has been more highly honored among us than Martin Luther King Jr., whose hope for America included the words “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood … ”
Cesar Chavez rallied desperately poor, undervalued migrant farm workers with the cry "Si, se puede!” (Yes, we can.)
These leaders offered all Americans, the great middle class and the poor, avenues to gain access to better lives. One progressive president after another — from FDR to Barack Obama — supported organized labor that filled factories and businesses with tens of thousands of workers who were now able to support their families with the decent wages unions negotiated.
Organized labor became the nation’s great middle-class fulcrum. Union’s clout in the industrial Midwest produced amazing results until attacked by conservatives who subsequently took these factories overseas, creating in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin what we call “the Rust Belt.” These same conservative forces now resist a minimum wage of $15 an hour, a level that would generate even too little to support most families, yet might allow their middle-class communities to survive.
This lighthouse of hope has grown dim. We are now divided internally and isolated from the rest of the world — except for the worst tyrants. The president refuses to acknowledge the environmental crisis, and he is a petulant, bitter and arrogant liar. And now he may face impeachment not only for his reprehensible telephone blunder but also for obstruction of justice.
The problem, however, resides not just with our egomaniac president but also with the collapse of a formerly reputable political party. But there is reason to hope. We have recovered before and we will again. From now until November 2020, the majority of Americans must make the case that will lead to the recovery of an angry nation on the edge of cynical despair.
We are a better people whose greatness lies in deeply rooted values. So our task is clear. Get your life behind it.