We stand at a watershed moment for these United States. Thoughts and opinions different from our own confront us. On one hand, like children, we can speak louder and drown out the sound of other ideas. On the other, we have an opportunity to listen and learn. We have history. Ironically, revisiting the topic of racial injustice is both very sad and potentially hopeful.
President Lyndon Baines Johnson or LBJ popularized the modern use of the phrase “these United States,” acknowledging our states as plural, but emphasizing unity as our defining nature. According to the National Archive, “LBJ envisioned ‘A Great Society’ to end poverty, reduce crime, improve the environment, and advance civil rights.” President Johnson said, notably, “Politics is the art of compromise,” which seems other-worldly in today’s hyper-partisan environment.
An Agenda for Change
In a tumultuous time, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and LBJ worked together to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. President Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall, the first African American on the Supreme Court, and days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act of 1968.
The Attack on These United States
Division wages the unsubtle attack we now experience. But history knows that dividing the enemy is the key to insurgence. Voicing a strategy of “divide and conquer,” Julius Caesar mercilessly defeated Gaul more than two thousand years ago. Abraham Lincoln quoted Jesus when he proclaimed, “A house divided against itself shall not stand.” A thinking adult must concede that these United States now bear an urgent frontal assault by an enemy who seeks to divide and conquer.
Dividing These United States
This assault musters every means of division imaginable. The formula is simple. Enabling division requires that we group one another into convenient categories. Our discussions devolve to labels such as left versus right, Republican versus Democrat, or black versus white. By stratifying others into stereotyped groups, we no longer require reasoned discussion. Division becomes a mindless team sport.
Person to Person
I loved my father-in-law, Norman, though he was a complex and flawed man. When he talked about categories of people, his speech was derogatory. Thinking in the stereotypes he learned as a child, Norm was quick to judge. However, when he met any individual face to face, he seemed genuinely warm, caring, attentive, and ready to help. I watched him meet and befriend individuals with seemingly no regard for race or ethnicity.
A Simple Answer
It’s simple, really. To some degree or another, we are all “Normans.” So long as we think and speak of each other as faceless groups, we continue to divide our country. However, when we see and hear each other as individuals who make up these United States, there’s no better place on earth.
James 1:19 “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.”
Photo courtesy of National Archive