Dan Rather, NBC News, October 12, 2017
We are one nation, and yet we are made up of different states. We are bound by one Constitution, and yet we speak different languages, pray in different ways, and trace our ancestry to every corner of the globe.
In these uncertain days, as we work to confront the divisions within our diverse citizenry, it’s worth reflecting anew on the cohesiveness of our national identity. Because I believe that while we should celebrate our variety, a national conversation about what unites us can provide the foundation for a stronger and more just United States.
We should revere the expansive values upon which our nation was founded, while recognizing that our customs and laws have often fallen short.
Right now the centrifugal forces of division are pulling us apart: We draw our national map into red states and blue states, the political system is frozen along tribal party lines, violent hate is on display in places like Charlottesville, Va., and a rapidly shifting economy seems to be only exacerbating our growing income inequality.
And we tend to congregate in separate communities of “our own kind.” How did we get here? And how can we get back to a more united place?
To pine for the past, however, is to misread history.
As a boy I pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States in a segregated school in Houston.
In my opinion we were far more divided as a nation in the past than we are today. I do not say this to minimize the challenges of the present. Women, racial and religious minorities, the LGBTQ community, those with physical or mental challenges, and all the categories of “other” have traditionally been excluded from the corridors of power — and remain so in many ways. Still, the advances of the past decades cannot be ignored.
In theory anyone can be an “American.” And I believe that an appreciation of diversity is the source of our founding strength. Our original national motto was e pluribus unum: from many, one. Whatever our shortcomings, this ideal has been our guiding North Star.
So how do we reach out to each other in these difficult times? We need to recommit to the rule of law, for in the unity of law we can mete out justice across a diverse citizenry. We need to insist on the right to vote — and fight back against efforts to curtail it — for that is the means by which all of our people can be heard. We need to invest in public education, as this is the way to help overcome the inequities of one’s station at birth.
We need to value service, on foreign battlefields but also in diplomacy and our own needy communities. We need to champion science and reason in the face of ignorance and superstition. We need to protect a free press, which is under political pressure and suffering from a crumbling business model.
These are core values that allow for the free expression of our many differences while maintaining a just and lasting national consensus. All of these ideals, and many others, can be found throughout our history. They are enshrined in the words of our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
This is the vision of patriotism to which I aspire, an unabashed and open embrace of the most noble of our values.
Dan Rather’s new book, “What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism” (on sale Nov. 7) is now available for pre-order.