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July 28, 2022

Summoning Our Better Angels in the Fight for America

Photo by Marta Wave on Pexels.

It doesn’t seem like it could get much worse:

The Trump Years

The Covid Pandemic

The Killing of George Floyd

January 6 insurrection

Putin’s war on Ukraine

Too many mass shootings to list

Eroding economy

Disastrous Effects of Climate Change

Rogue Supreme Court overturning rights, gun and environmental protections

We can’t digest one tragic event in our traumatic news cycles before another one occurs.

We are tired. We are depressed. We are scared. We are hopeless.

Or are we really all of those things? We shout angry words and hold up handwritten slogans in our streets but we are mostly preaching to the choir. Our truths are only true depending on which side you’re on. We have definitely lost the meaning of truth.

I attended a lecture by the famous historian John Meacham during the worst of the Trump years. He spent the evening talking about the great tragedies our country has already seen- the Civil War, Reconstruction, the KKK, the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy, the Great Depression, two World  Wars, Anti-communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era, the Viet Nam war, Slavery, Segregation, Jim Crow, the fight for Women’s Rights and so many more. And he shared his reasons for believing we will not only survive but thrive as a country, as we had in the aftermath of each of our challenges.

I approached him at the end of his talk and asked if he would sign my copy of his book The Soul of America. As he was signing it I asked him if he really believed there was hope. He looked at me with a gleam in his eyes and said” yes I do and if I am wrong I will see you in the concentration camps” and chuckled. I chuckled back in a nervous yet hopeful sort of way. I took that over all feeling that things were not as bad as they seem or could be with me into that night, not realizing that, in the words of Bachman Turner Overdrive- “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” It was the winter of 2019.

Now it definitely feels like we are on a very steep downhill slope, but I don’t believe we have lost the battle yet.

I believe we are resilient and resourceful. I believe we are warriors fighting for the preservation of all the things we hold dear and the freedoms we believe are our right in this great American experiment. We have a lot of work to do before we can call this attempt at democracy a failure- or a success.

We can’t be passive and accept the status quo but we also have to temper our loud rhetoric with open hearts willing to listen and learn and find the path that leads us to a respectful debate . Neither side can win all the time but we all win when we are open and willing to work on finding a way that takes us to our mutually agreed destination of Freedom and Justice for all.

Compared to most other countries, America is still very young and our history is still being written.

Will we find our way to that happy ending or will we take the path of ancient Rome and burn ourselves to the ground?

The Washington Post, in their review of The Soul of America said “Meacham tells readers we’ve been here before and can find our way out, urging readers to enter the arena, avoid tribalism, respect facts and listen to history.”

I too believe we will find our way out and it will take all of us finding our way with kindness and caring. We need to be those angel warriors that both Lincoln and Meacham speak of or at the least search our hearts for reasons why we abandoned those angels and find a way to elevate and support their message.

I will leave you with the words of President Abraham Lincoln and the concluding words of John Meacham from his book – and the wish that you join me in my informed optimism and recognition of the potential angel in all of us.

“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, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land,  will yet swell the course of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the perfect angels of our nature.”

Abraham Lincoln

“ For all of our darker impulses, for all of our shortcomings, and for all of the dreams denied and deferred, the experiment began so long ago, carried out so imperfectly, is worth the fight. There is, in fact, no struggle more important, and none nobler,  than when we wage in the service of those better angels who, however besieged are always ready for battle.”

John Meacham

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