We always begin a new year with reflections of the past, hope for the future and resolutions to improve ourselves in the months ahead by vowing to improve our health, finances and relationships.
All are worthy goals, but we’d like to offer a resolution we all can share, a trait our nation has been far too short of in the year just past. We offer this as a common quest for 2016: Courage.
In our political and public lives, Americans have lost the glowing confidence of a people who know their values, are certain in their goals and stride resolutely forward. Now we cower from threats real and imagined, driven by fear, anger, intolerance and uncertainty, and it manifests itself in multiple symptoms of trepidation.
At times we seem paralyzed by fears of many stripes. Fear of immigrants, legal and otherwise. Fear of refugees from war-torn lands. Fear of those who worship God differently, or not at all. Fear of those whose political ideals lie across the spectrum. Fear of people who choose life partners that defy tradition. Fear of people who wear dreadlocks, tattoos and hoodies, who say “Happy Holidays,” or of those who drive a truck with a gun rack. Fear of a child in school who points his finger like a gun. Fear of myriad shadowy devils threatening to carry those children away if we let them play outside without a grown-up hovering nearby.
And overarching it all, a gripping fear of terrorist groups that, though based on a valid risk, has gone off the scale of all rational thought. It’s one thing to frisk everyone who gets on an airplane or enters a public place. It’s another to assume everyone in a turban or hijab is a demon out to do us harm.
That weed grows from the same patch in all of our heads, the fear that someone or something different and foreign will force its way into our homes and our brains and turn us into them. But it only will if we let it, and if we validate terrorism by giving in to terror.
How can the America we came to know be so shaken by of zealots who strap bombs to themselves to blow up innocent people? The U.S. and its allies defeated multiple nations of Nazi fascists and Communist imperialists over two generations, yet we quake when faced with a band of unsophisticated barbarians whose means of warfare is a random strike at unwary civilians. They present a formidable foe, but we should not let that deter our effort to silence and disarm them.
And we will defeat them by being what they are not: Open-minded, inclusive and compassionate. Let them fear what is different and threatens their belief system. Let their “silent majority” set limits on liberty while we aim to break them down. Let them oppress women and minorities while we welcome their contributions. We’re better than they are, and it’s time we showed them, and everyone else, why.
This witch’s brew of fear and anger is the driving force of the presidential campaign, where some candidates choose to serve as lightning rods for the belief the America we knew and loved is slipping away as those “other” people force their way of life on us. Like snake-oil peddlers selling a shady elixir to cure all our ails, they convince many voters our problems flow from the Middle East, Mexico or Wall Street, fostering an “us vs. them” mindset that knows no end, since who is “us” and “them” is ever-changing.
Easy answers are cowardly. Politicians who tell voters what they want to hear and no more aren’t leaders, they are followers scurrying in the wake of polls and talking heads that set the agenda. True leaders throughout history were at the head of the parade, not trailing behind. Those willing to buck their party lines and compromise for the common good are the brave ones, not those who go along to get along so they can keep getting re-elected.
And when candidates brag of returning America to what it once was and “restore its greatness,” they don’t always mean a robust economy and strength in the world. Some want to flip the calendar back to those “Leave it to Beaver” days of yesteryear that only existed in fiction. It may seem nostalgic and idyllic, but it isn’t a realistic approach to governing a vast, complex, diverse nation.
It’s past time we all embraced the idea being American isn’t just one thing, it’s a lot of things, yet we are united by the belief that the freedom to choose our own paths is the thread that binds us. And the comfort in knowing citizens of a melting-pot society can co-exist when bound by that shared creed, even when our skin, hair, churches and other beliefs may differ.
We used to be such a self-assured people — cowboys and pioneers, adventurers and innovators, with “the right stuff” to mold a nation out of wilderness by taming every threat. Daniel Boone, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, Martin Luther King, George Patton, Chuck Yeager, Jackie Robinson — they all epitomized the can-do, get-out-of-my way spirit that defined what it means to be American. Where is that brand of valor now?
America’s stock may have dropped in some ways but it still is the gold standard in an uncertain world. This remains the strongest, most prosperous, most hopeful nation on earth, and it’s time we again reflected those qualities. We should quit being so afraid and so angry with each other. It’s a sign of weakness and not worthy of who we are. Courage, optimism and confidence should be our banner.
We are Americans. Let’s stiffen our spines in 2016 and start acting like it again.
To send a letter to the editor, use this form or send to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Times editorial board includes Publisher Charlotte Atkins, General Manager Norman Baggs and Editor Keith Albertson.