I have arrived at a renewed appreciation for the words My Country Tis of Thee; to me, they mean we need each other for our democracy to function. We must pull together. While we need not agree completely, we must fundamentally trust and respect our fellow citizens, if our country is to remain a representative democracy. If we are to be governable by laws, we need shared understanding -to at least a large extent- of what our Constitution and ensuing judicial decisions mean. It is important to agree on recent court actions as well as our founding documents, and this requires basic respect for one another as Americans.
In order for this American democracy to work, I – and each of us – rely upon the good intentions of my (our) neighbors. My country, quite literally, is of thee: my own land of the free and the brave relies upon your commitment to be brave for the sake of freedom. Your country as a land of liberty relies explicitly on my commitment to fight for your rights to all that we have agreed through the proxies of our progenitors, and the patriotic activists who have come since, to be our inalienable rights as Americans. If my fellow citizens betray their commitment to our shared exercise in government by the people, then my own chance to participate in this experiment is lost. The viability of my democracy is only as strong as my fellow citizens’ determination to rally around it. If I fail in my own dedication to government of the people, my fellow citizens’ stake in our American nation is at risk. Who speaks for me after everyone has been silenced? Who speaks for my neighbors if I pull my curtains and hold my tongue? If any of us betray each other’s allegiance, our government for the people is in jeopardy.
Whatever differences we may have over minutiae of fiscal policy or immigration or law enforcement or school choice, or a thousand other debates, writ large our success or failure relies upon our acquiescence to a shared vision of America. In the recent past, Democrats and Republicans and Independents have become at last essentially indistinguishable when it comes to issues like the First Amendment, or the moral authority of America in terms of child labor or hate crimes. We have debates about the interpretation of the Second Amendment, and about levels of taxation. We have acknowledged to varying degrees the ways in which wrongs of the past can and must be addressed in the present, in order to ever form a more perfect union. We have not tended to differ much about whether fascism and the American ideal are compatible. Suddenly, we seem divided on this question?
Our current president and our current administration and our current Congress all need to revisit this notion of shared stewardship of our nation. It requires all of us. And yes, that also means that we as citizens need to revisit our own role in our government. If we value a representative democracy, we have a job to do too. Whatever squabbles we have with each other about economic or political issues, whether or not to tell the truth ought not to be a ‘tricky’ question. Those who would serve as leaders owe us the truth. We who would serve as citizens owe them respect – until and unless they forfeit that privilege through mendacity or high crimes. Whether a President feels like yours, mine or ours, we should never grow accustomed to doubting the veracity of their everyday statements – literally the thoughts emitting every single day – from his office. And I do mean his, since the electoral college has yet to deem a woman worthy of holding the office currently being debased almost beyond recognition.
My Country Tis of Thee. What is ‘my country?’ ‘My country’ is a vision that depends on a vision shared by many – most if not all – of us, in which we agree to disagree on some of the finer points, yet in which we agree to agree on the big stuff: the sovereignty of our nation, the primacy of democratic ideals, the immovability of our commitment to human rights and a vision of as safe, free, clean, and strong a global community as we can muster. I can accommodate my neighbors and fellow citizens having a different interpretation of our county’s best interests from time to time. I can accept that multiple visions for the future have legitimacy. What I cannot accept, cannot tolerate, cannot wrap my head around, is the idea that because of a divergence in beliefs or perceptions, somehow my impressions get to eradicate yours, or vice versa. To me, that would be the ultimate un-American activity. My Country Tis of Thee. For my democratic America to thrive, you must fight to the teeth for our mutually assured rights. I will too.