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Our National Identity

September 30, 2017

Whether as a person or a nation, the question “Who am I?” needs to precede the question “What should I do?”; we cannot know what we should do until we know who we really are. Our principles, values, and deep identity are the guiding principles of wise and right action. Without them we are flying blind, lost in the spiritual darkness of mere self-centered pursuit.

The United States used to know who we were, even though we have never yet fully embodied the truth of it. We are the home of the brave, endowed by God with the blessings of liberty and justice. And where this has not been true – as in slavery, and the oppression of women, and injustice towards Native Americans, and legalized white supremacy – we understood as a nation that it was our job to fix that. For that is who we are.

But something has gone terribly wrong over the last 40 years, and it does not serve us to gloss over this. We have sold our identity to the highest bidders, sacrificing our sense of national purpose. We have forgotten our deep identity and the mission, passed along generation after generation, to preserve it. We became distracted by ultimately meaningless things.

How could it be otherwise, given our lack of commitment to teach civics to all our children (how could they know what we have failed to teach them)? How could it be otherwise, given the increasingly undue influence of money on our politics? How could it be otherwise, given that so many of us left politics to other people to handle?

Sometimes we become clear about who we are in part by getting clear about who we are not. We are not only a Christian nation, for instance; we are a religiously pluralistic nation. Our Founders said so and we need to keep it that way.

We are not a nation where might makes right; we are a nation where truth and justice make right. Our Founders said so and we need to keep it that way.

We are not a nation where only some are entitled to the gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; we are a nation where God himself has granted all of us those inalienable rights. Our Founders said so and we need to keep it that way.

Only when we remember who we are as a nation can we have a clear sense of what we are to do. America has a promise to keep, not only to ourselves but to the ages. Here, on this land, we will honor the democratic principles that ensure all men and women the right to be free, to create our own destiny, actualizing according to the dictates of our own conscience and the work of our own hands the life we choose to manifest. Any force, either external or internal, that would seek to limit our capacity to do that is a threat not only to us but to our historic charge. Part of our deep identity is not only our freedom but our commitment to that freedom; not only our democracy but our willingness to sacrifice for our democracy; not only our sacred first principles but our fealty to those principles particularly when they are under threat.

Today they are under threat and it is time for us to show who we are. We must push back those threats, stand up to those threats, and dismantle those threats. It is true that they are fierce, but when we remember who we are and why we are here then so are we. Now, as has been true since our founding almost two and a half centuries ago, there is a sense that something bigger is at stake here than simply our own desires. These are disturbing times for America’s soul, and for America’s politics, but the light at the center of who we really are and our sense of political purpose will yet prevail.

  • Ronnie Nicolson

    Sadly this is not the America that many of us see over the last 40 years…not that we are a whole lot better here in the UK. We need to change all of society even if it is only one person at a time.

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