The State of Our Union

If you are under the age of, say, 30 you probably don’t remember the days when the American people were considered citizens. Back in the day, we were not mere consumers or investors; nor republicans or democrats or partisans. We were citizens of the United States of America, one nation, indivisible…in the ideal, anyway.

President Obama’s Inaugural speeches addressed the state of our Union and the deep and painful rift that is dividing it. We were reminded of our citizenship and of our responsibilities as such: a responsibility to behave with civility toward one another, to care for and cherish our children, to provide assistance to those who are in need, and opportunities to the least of us. Why? Because we are engaged in a common cause, the cause of maintaining the Union, a union demanded by our constitution. A democracy requires civility to thrive. Civility requires basic respect for human ability and frailty.

The Inaugural poem reflected this theme of union. He spoke of One sun rising gracefully east to west sharing its illumination and awaking us to this One day. One wind, One sky, One moon, One dream shared. One simple dream to feel safe and secure; to have communities and schools and homes and churches; to have jobs, not just for paying the mortgage but for its own sake because working is a part of the dream. (I think too many people misunderstand the passage about the freedom to pursue happiness. They think it means we all want to play golf or indulge some fantasy life in Bali. Wrong. We want to work—at something fulfilling if possible but if not, at least enough to maintain our dignity. Simple dreams, really.)

President Obama commented that we must move forward and risk making mistakes, risk being wrong. Politicians are so afraid of being wrong. There is a platitude passed around graduate studies departments for dissertation writers: Don’t get it right; Get it written. It could take forever to get it all right…that’s an ideal but at some point you have to stop studying and start writing. Congress could use that advice.

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