There are three topics you’re never supposed to discuss at a dinner party: politics, sex and religion. This assumes you want to host a boring dinner party. I believe the same goes for newsletters. That being said, politics, in particular, has never done well by me in this newsletter. If I wanted to see my subscription numbers take a nose-dive, I’d discuss politics every week.
I don’t blame folks for being weary of it. The challenges we face are serious, as are the allegations of wrongdoing on the part of foreign and domestic actors alike. But I believe breathlessness does us no favors.
So, I wanted to take a step back in this issue to look at our roots and our aspirations as a nation. There’s a prevailing narrative about America with which I have always taken issue. It goes a little something like this:
America is a land of truth, justice and freedom for all. It is a nation of democratic principles with a free and fair representative government. In America, anyone and everyone can make a life for themselves with a guarantee they will receive equal justice under the law and a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The problem is that this narrative is often touted as the story of our nation’s roots. It’s not. Our nation’s roots grew from a very bitter seed. It grew from the near-genocide of an indigenous people, slavery, the subjugation of women, rape and deceit. America’s roots are, frankly, rotten. Ignoring these roots will not make them go away. We also cannot replace them. They are there; they will always be there. It’s part of what America is.
It’s not all America is, of course. The country has grown into a substantial tree that has offered shade to millions fleeing persecution and those in search of a better life. The story of truth, justice and the American Way, is a part of America as well, but it is the tree tops — not the roots. We confuse the two too often, believing that our aspirations are that from which we grew. They’re not. We grow from our history, and our history is a difficult one, to say the least.
So, the next time you’re at a dinner party or out and about, and someone tells you America was founded on truth, justice and freedom, etc. and they are shocked — shocked, I tell you! — that we are where we are today (whether they are looking from the perspective of the right or the left or somewhere in between), please do them a favor and offer a correction. Yes, America aspires to those things and we, each in our own way, struggle constantly to realize them, but they are not what rest at our nation's foundation. The land was inhabited before the settlers of Plymouth and was tended to by people who were stripped of their basic human rights. Children were born to women who had no voice in our so-called representative government. There was governance by way of tribes prior to the founding fathers. To remember and fully own that is the fastest path to reaching the treetops of this great nation and eating the fruit of its highest aspirations.