Like many of my other fellow Americans, I spent this Fourth of the July watching the filmed stage production of Hamilton. Seemed fitting as it is about the founding of our country as we fought for independence from the British. Maybe we could forget about our pandemic woes for a minute and reflect back to a time that unified us all as patriots. Except if you were paying any attention at all to the story you would know we weren’t too unified back then. It struck me that as a country we were born out of conflict and perhaps it should not be so surprising that we’re a pretty conflicted bunch even still today.
Let’s review a few of our key historical moments.
- The Revolutionary War: Should we stay or should we go now? Not everyone agreed about that, and those that agreed on “going” didn’t agree on how or what the new thing would look like. And they thought it was a good idea to have the second place candidate be vice president (could you imagine Hilary as vice to Trump??). They would settle slights of honor with duels. And these white dudes were not asking women, Native Americans, or people of color how they felt about any of it. Oh, and the north and the south were already getting fussy with each other.
- The Civil War: After the 2016 election, I naively asked my history-professor father if there was ever a time in our country’s history that we were so divided. He said, “you mean like the Civil War?” Oh yeah, that ol’ chestnut. Part of me wonders if it ever really ended. Living in The South in my high school years, I was mystified to meet folks who were proud Americans, but would also routinely say “The South shall rise again” whenever they had the chance. I’m sure there is a lot to unpack there, but needless to say, people seemed to be a tad conflicted about just what they wanted.
- Women’s Suffrage: The movement for national suffrage for women took over 100 years to achieve success. Along the way, there was a lot of conflict over how to achieve this goal (whether over civil disobedience vs less inflammatory marches) plus the fight over women’s right to vote vs black men’s right to vote. Mix in the temperance movement and no wonder everyone was cranky.
- Civil Rights movement: There is much to discuss here, including Rev Dr Martin Luther King and his strategy of non-violent civil disobedience, Malcolm X, The Black Panthers, and now Black Lives Matter, but I think it’s fair to say we’ve come a long way – and we’ve got a long way to go.
- Roe v Wade: Anyone think we’ve reached consensus over this one? No?? Didn’t think so…
- Same sex marriage: It is legal in all 50 states, but that doesn’t mean a couple wouldn’t face challenges in getting a license, getting a cake, or getting a child through adoption.
I could go on and on about any of these topics and there are plenty of pivotal moments in our history I have left out. The point is that you can go backwards and forwards in our country’s history and we were pretty much always fighting about one thing or another. There are no “good old days” to harken back to – maybe just moments of calm between the storms.
I will note that as I talk with my liberal and conservative friends, I hear both sides saying the same things – everyone is emotionally exhausted from the chaos and fighting in our country, and we’re all yearning for ‘normalcy,’ whatever that is. I hear left and right alike talking about how hard it is to be on social media where the meme-based mud slinging is alive and well. Flag planting is commonplace, questions – let alone dissent – is not allowed. Nuance of opinion is strictly forbidden. I quit watching the daily news because the only thing it seemed to accomplish was raising my blood pressure.
I am lucky to have friends from around the globe. I can only imagine what they think when they see the politicization of the pandemic here in the US. I myself struggle with why the issue of wearing a mask is such a contentious one. There have been moments in time and today when I shudder at what we’ve done as a country. You could look at us from outside and say we are dysfunctional and broken. There are broken parts to be sure, but we are not broken – we are fighters. Our fights are messy, sometimes even deadly, but we are fierce in defending our causes. Whatever you say about us, you can’t say we take any of it lying down. Am I proud of that? Some days I am moved to tears by our tenacity, other days I am moved to tears by the pain we inflict on each other. I am not always proud of the things we do, but I am not ashamed to be a citizen either. If history teaches us anything about Americans it is that we won’t stop fighting for what we believe is right and, for that, yes, I am proud.