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Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law. —Proverbs 29:18
The recent televised events surrounding John McCain’s memorial service were profoundly moving. They featured the last three Presidents of the United States, a host of famous political leaders of state, and truly profound sharing from members of his family and close friends. The speeches were elevating in every way and, in many cases, focused on a common theme that Senator McCain shared with all his friends and political antagonists. His penchant for asking the following phrase mirrored his love for America and what he perceived to be our national destiny: “We are better than that. America is better than that.” What a challenging demand that phrase brought to all who heard the essence of his patriotic appeal.
Is America really “better than that,” and if so, why? Why are we alleged to be called and mandated to standards beyond the petty, beyond the self-serving, and beyond baser sides of human frailty? Who says that is our destiny and “border” as the world’s super-power colossus? Is this “better than” a self-imposed yoke, and if not, who put this standard-setting role upon us? All three past Presidents referred to it and seemed to confirm that, indeed, this is ours to carry. No watching commentators from the media challenged it. It felt like a “given” as the attending guests attitudinally affirmed this honor by their facial responses. Of course, folks, “America the standard bearer” is hardly news and should be noted at any serious ceremony of state for this great experiment in human progress and freedom.
If we are to be “better than that,” then what is this growing parade of insults, conspiracies, and heated, hateful language all about? What about the clear elimination of freedom of speech, especially by our bastions of education and centers of learning? What about charges of racism both real and imagined? Why is our public skin so thin and why are our tongues so sharp? Where is reasoned debate or respect for differing opinions? From whence cometh this river of vitriol and slaughter of assumed good will? Have we fallen from grace or were we never there? If we bother to look at the historical reports of years gone by from those who were actually there, can we trust their accounts? Dare we blame current leaders for all of this and absolve all those further away from power or even “victims of the system?” At whose feet do we deposit the blame?
Were I to respond in any depth to these ugly questions, it could not possibly be done in a commentary so limited as this. The headwaters would be varied, the villains known and some little-known, and the protests vigorous from both sides of the political aisles, so to speak. What I can say is this: The core issue must focus on where elevated assumption began, why it touched so many, how has it elected our march toward a more just humanity, who has worked so hard to debunk it, and why? The day is not far when these questions will come to the center as our nation seriously asks, “Who are we really, and where are we going?” That, indeed, is the bottom-line issue.