The United States Of America. United? Really?
Puritans, slave owners, Native Americans, African slaves, immigrants from almost every country. And, of course, the Civil War. Not exactly Switzerland.
Never were we homogeneous. But we had unity as a myth. A good myth, but a myth. In hard times, this myth helped us put aside our differences.
That’s why one of the most important, but not appreciated, responsibilities of the office of president, is to keep our diverse country together and speak to support this myth.
The following leaders were keenly aware of this:
George Washington was disappointed about his second term because he was not able to prevent partisanship entering politics with the political fighting of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. He feared the disunity partisan politics would bring. Obviously, he was more right than he could have known.
Abe Lincoln’s great accomplishments were appointing political rivals to his cabinet and treating Robert E. Lee and the confederates with respect at the close of the war. To build unity.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was successful in leading during the Great Depression and World War II due to his ability to build coalitions and, at least publicly, show respect for adversaries.
George W. Bush and Barack Obama, each in his own way, understood the importance of their role in providing leadership that was based on unity, at least in public appearance.
We have been a great country because of leaders that have dealt with issues by keeping unity in mind. Trying to keep the myth alive.
This brief look back hopefully makes the point that we are one of the most diverse countries in history. When times are tough, we come together whatever our differences are. Previous leaders led by advocating unity, which made us a great county.
Anyone following along knows where this is headed.
For the last three years, Donald Trump has gone out his way to divide us in every way possible. His supporters think this shows that he not a typical politician. Of course he is not. He acts for his, and only his, best interests. As he has done his whole life. He is not capable of considering the damage he is doing to our institutions and traditions. The damage that he has done to our reputation with our allies, and more importantly the lack of respect from our adversaries.
COVID-19 should have provided an opportunity similar to 9/11 or World War II. To bring the country together. To fight the common enemy. To put aside our differences for the common good.
But somehow Trump even shocked some of his supporters by making this partisan, and dividing people. This in an attempt to distract from the administration’s abject failure to respond with any degree of competency. Even with several weeks warning.
With about 4% of the worlds population, we have 25% of the cases. And still climbing. How did making the wearing of a mask partisan? The man has a gift. Not a skill that belongs in the White House however.
Then of course he was given a chance at race relations, with video of the police murder of George Floyd. He hit it out of the park. His statements are almost like he was trying to reestablish the KKK. The image of Trump in a KKK costume is vivid and is almost too easy to imagine.
After his November defeat the damage he has done will not magically disappear. The 30% to 40% who support Trump will not become thoughtful, informed voters, be they conservative or progressive. Fox News will continue to divide. It will likely be years to rebuild our institutions, traditions and respect in the world. Will we ever be able to reestablish our myth? If we can, it will take time and a great leader.
With China’s military and economic strength coming on, we don’t have much time. And we may never be as strong as before Trump.
Encourage your kids to learn Chinese.
Ray McEvilly, Millcreek, is a Utah native and former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer.