That America is in a terrible place right now is without question. At no point in our recent history has there been so much upheaval, uncertainty, and fear. Our world has been turned upside down and inside out after one of the most tumultuous years in our nation’s history.
More Americans have died in the past year than in any year ever. In the past eleven months 400,000 Americans have perished from a pandemic that has burned through our country with the fury and indiscriminate cruelty of an untamed wildfire. Families have had to say goodbye without being able to say goodbye, having been forced to stay apart when wanting nothing more than to be able come together.
The pandemic has not just taken lives, but it has stripped millions of Americans of their livelihoods. Covid has forced states to make tough choices about what to keep open and what to close. It has forced children to stay home, stolen our social lives, and sent more Americans than ever to food banks, seeking sustenance that many had never sought before.
The pandemic, though horrible by any measure, is not without an end in sight however. Vaccines have been developed, are being distributed, and will eventually bring an end to one our nation’s saddest hours. Unfortunately covid is not the only thing that ails our nation, nor is it the most challenging issue we face today.
Our people are not just dying but we are a nation divided as never before. The last four years has strained the ties that bind us together, made us question our commitment to one another, and ushered in an era of discord and distrust as never before seen in the United States.
A contested election has laid bare our very real divisions. Our standing in the world is diminished as the usually peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next has been anything but peaceful. The storming of our Capitol by domestic terrorists seeking to overturn the results of an election has scared our allies, emboldened our enemies, called into doubt the sanctity of our elections, and made us suspicious of our neighbors.
At no other time in recent history has the very future of our nation been in so much doubt, nor the durability of our democracy so openly questioned. The world is watching to see whether after 244 years the expanse of our divisions is greater than our will to bridge them.
It is moments like these where we are all called upon to look deep within ourselves to summon our better angels and reaffirm our commitment to not turn back nor falter in defense of our Union and not fall prey to the weight of what divides us today. In order to do so, we must confront our differences head on, combat ignorance where it exists, and commit to better understanding each other and the world in which we live. The task now falls upon us, as it has generations past, to secure this Union and deliver to future generations those great gifts of democracy, freedom, equality, and justice that were granted to this generation with grace, humility, and hope by our ancestors.
At this time we may not understand each other, but we can affirm that we would like to know one another better. We can choose a new, better, and more united way forward than the divided path already traversed. We do not have to sacrifice the things we believe in to better understand people we do not agree with. We can and always will hold differing opinions, but that does not mean our conversations must always be disagreeable, or that we cannot respect the differing opinions of others.
What has been, does not have to be. We are no more bound by our past than set free by our future. We can, if we open our minds and our hearts, find a part of ourselves in our shared experience as Americans. We can find common interests that bring us together instead of divisive words that tear us apart.
We can choose to reach out to those who have fallen and give them a hand up. We can make those marginalized feel as if they have a place in this country as well. There is plenty room enough for all of us in this country to have a place that we can not just call home, but feel at home in. We can look past what separates us as individuals and find what unites us as Americans.
We must do this in order to remain true to our origins. For our founders, faced with unfathomable odds against their fortunes, drew upon their shared grievances and set aside their differences, found strength in the cause of something larger than themselves, pledged not just their lives, but their sacred honor and fortunes, so that we might enjoy the freedoms we do today. With little more than hope and virtue, they committed themselves to a task that seemed impossible. Yet in their unity they found strength, in their strength they found courage, and in their courage the will to face down tyranny and defeat England.
Today we are faced with a decision of what kind of country we are and what kind of a country we want to be. We are confronted with the uncomfortable reality that we have hard work left to do if we are to pass on to future generations a better country than the one we inherited. We all must be a part of the solution.
It falls upon us to decide if we will be true to our founding principles of liberty, justice, equality, fairness, inclusiveness, and community or will we allow ourselves to be divided further? Will we find the courage to not just look in the mirror and see what is wrong, but also compassion to look at others and see what is right? Can we find the self-control to recoil from our propensity to divide ourselves over things immaterial to who we are and find ground that is common with people who are foreign? Can we live up to the examples set by generation after generation of Americans across the ages who sat aside their differences and came together in the name of making this country as close to the perfect union as they could?
These are the questions we must now answer as we look at ourselves and the country in which we live. A better future is not guaranteed but it is attainable if we apply ourselves to the cause at hand and commit our full measure of devotion to bridging our divides. If we commit ourselves to a world in which we all choose to seek understanding when we do not know, common ground when we are apart, and unity over division then we will succeed in passing forth those great gifts of liberty, equality, and justice that have been given to us.
This we can do.
This we must do.
This we will do.