A Union Under Tension

Out of many, one.

That’s what the “E Pluribus Unum” phrase stamped on those coins in your pocket means. 

It is the aspiration of a hopeful nation, that out of a disparate population from all over the world, a union might be formed and maintained. 

For many, our “union” seems tenuous and anything but unified. Not only can we not agree on matters of race, we can’t even decide whether the wearing of face masks is a good idea or a conspiracy. 

Please don’t despair. It has ever been thus. 

When you look out the window of an airplane (remember when you used to fly?), it isn’t unusual to see the wings of that plane literally bending with the violent turbulence outside. But anyone who knows anything about aerodynamics (or used to read Popular Science as a kid) knows wings are designed to bend, so they do not break. 

Our union is bending more than usual these days. And that can be quite scary. But wings that bend tend to be wings that will not break. 

The preamble to our constitution claims as its rationale for existence its lofty aim “to form a more perfect Union…” Our constitution’s framers knew better than to claim any hope of forming “the perfect union.” 

It would forever be “a more perfect union,” implying a never-ending road towards progress. Yet one with inevitable detours, roadblocks and even U-turns. 

Many leaders, institutions and causes from our past are being re-examined with freshly acute sensitivities toward racial transgressions. I have listened to and spoken with people having widely ranging opinions. 

Some have surprising things to say. Things I had not thought of before. Things I may not agree with now, but that I must admit are thoughtful. 

Others seem to simply enjoy slinging mud. Employing invectives. They may not know what they’re talking about, but they are mighty sure of their opinions. 

I’m beginning to see most of these wide-ranging opinions share either one broad approach or another.

One approach says, “We can do better than this.” There is a lot of room under this banner. From the flag waving conservative to the finger wagging liberal, no one should claim this place is perfect. Our republic has never withered under criticism. 

One of the most strident voices in our history under the “We can do better” banner is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He saw the words of our Constitution and Declaration of Independence as “a promissory note” to all her citizens; but that “America has given the Negro people a bad check.”

Stinging words. But even in his words were the hope that we can do better.

“But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.” 

He was calling on America to be American. He was calling us all to live up to our true identity. 

But there is another voice in the land today that I can only describe as “Burn it all down.” One can hear in their voices nothing but hopeless nihilism. In their minds, our system is illegitimate and must be replaced. There is no hope of remediation, redemption or repair. 

There is only revolution. And Dr. King had something to say to these folks too.

“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.”

Our economic and political system is built on grassroots of choice and freedom. It is far from perfect, but it has produced more social freedom and economic flourishing for more people than any other system ever conceived by man. 

Can we do better? Yes! And we must. And I believe through this whole messy process, we will.

I’m looking outside the window. And just like you, I see the wings bending. But I’m not worried.

I’m in awe.

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