Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

Ideals

 

September 6, 2018 | View PDF



A lot has been written about Sen. John McCain since his passing. In many ways McCain embodied the United States itself, an embodiment captured by the word “resilience.”

Neither McCain nor our nation was, or is, in any way perfect, yet both had the resilience to bounce back from mistakes and hardships.

In his farewell statement to America, McCain wrote, “We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals.”

Many of those ideals took a while to manifest themselves, and many more are just emerging.

In 1776, the Declaration of Independence held as "self-evident…all men are created equal." That embraced fewer than half the population. Women weren’t mentioned, nor were slaves or Natives. Our Constitution, drafted a few years later, counted slaves as three-fifths of a whole person. In 1857 the Supreme Court ruled neither slaves nor free blacks were citizens of the United States.

Our national anthem, extolling “land of the free…home of the brave,” wasn’t considering original braves, Native American warriors who fought and died to keep their lands free and preserve their own liberties

Even today, ask a woman whether she experiences liberty – in the workplace, or at home. Ask anyone whose skin is a shade of brown. Ask a Muslim.

Yet McCain recognized America’s inherent, though imperfect, greatness: “To be connected to America’s causes – liberty, equal justice, respect for the dignity of all people – brings happiness more sublime than life’s fleeting pleasures.”

Blacks finally got the vote in 1870 in the 15th Amendment, but it took nearly a century for the 1965 Voting Rights Act to clear the path for them to actually vote in the South. Meanwhile the 19th Amendment slipped through in 1920, and women -- the other half of our population – were granted the privilege 144 years after Independence Day.

Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman, recognized our inherent greatness in his 1835 “Democracy in America.” He believed equality was the great political and social ideal of his era, yet he noted the irony of our freedom-loving nation’s mistreatment of Native Americans and its embrace of slavery.

He thought the US offered the most advanced example of equality in action but warned of American individualism creating a society of individuals that were paradoxically uniform.

McCain wrote, “We have helped liberate more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history.”

Yet, he continued, “We weaken our greatness when we confuse patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe…when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.”

In 1912, another visitor praised America’s ideals. Abdu’l-Baha, a Persian prisoner of the Ottoman Empire for most of his 68 years, traversed North America for nearly a year, speaking to multiple classes and “races” from New York to Montreal to California.

He called for revolutionary change in the concept and attitude of white Americans toward their “Negro fellow citizen,” a situation which, if not remedied, would cause streets of American cities to “run with blood.”

He spoke of an America clinging to absolute sovereignty in a world already contracted into a neighborhood, one crying out for global unity – in 1912. Yet, like McCain and de Tocqueville, he lauded this American republic because of its ideals.

He saw those ideals as capable of leading the rest of the world by example, by proclaiming the universality of humankind. He predicted America would “become the envy of the world and be blest in the East and the West for the triumph of its democracy.”

As this nation now seems to be withdrawing from global commitments, other nations, in a seismic shift, are working to bolster those commitments, the beginnings of a unified, stable global economy, one that will eventually include America on equal footing.

Current events are not as bad as they appear. We’ve weathered storms far fiercer―such as the ultimate oxymoron, a civil war. We’ve emerged stronger and more resilient as a result. Our ideals have sustained the most successful sociopolitical experiment in history.

McCain warned us not to “despair of our present difficulties.” He wrote, “Believe always in the promise and greatness of America.” He said that we never quit, surrender, nor hide from history. Instead, “We make history.”

Even while struggling to live up to our ideals, we can rely on those same ideals and our resilience to make history, to guide a world ready to recognize and embrace the oneness of humankind.

It’s time.

--Peter Haug, Colfax

 
 

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