Recently, when I posted this Tweet it elicited some strong reactions:
In the comments section, which I enjoy reading, there were many responses that politiley, or emphatically, countered with some version of “we are already there, Dan” or “this is who we are.” Many noted other shameful chapters in our history to suggest we have always been there, such as the murderous cruelties of slavery and the treatment of Native Americans. Even more recently, there were the horrors of Jim Crow, Japanese internment, and so many more.
I understand and sympathize with the sentiments of many who commented. We can have no sanitization of American history or of our present sad state of affairs. But we can also not ignore another central theme of American history. It is perhaps best laid out in a quote from Alexis de Tocqueville, a quote with which I chose to begin my recent book, “What Unites Us.”
“The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”
It is true we have become the America of Donald Trump. But we are also the America of a sweeping mandate in the House of Representatives full of new energy and idealism. It is true that we have become the America of family separations but we are also the America of outrage and action at these inhumane conditions. It is true we have become the America of mendacity at a level unseen from any American president, but we are also an America that calls the lies lies. And so on.
I will not shield my eyes or my heart from the realities that we face. But I will also not give up on our ability to fix our problems. To give up, to give in to cynicism, is to admit defeat. I firmly believe that the majority of Americans do not believe this should be our destiny, and while I do not minimize the political, structural or legal headwinds that hinder the path to justice, I will not give up on the decency and energy of millions of my fellow Americans to right our wrongs.
I will not let the forces of cruelty and division who say, “this is who we are” have the last word.