May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please. But as the opportunity to do what is right.
With great power comes great responsibility
Let’s be clear I do not write this to say American society has always done the right thing, understands its great responsibility, or that it has seen all of its citizens enjoyed freedom equally. However, for all its warts, this is still America, the land of the free, and the last four years, especially 2020, has shone a spotlight on the selfish and irresponsible behavior of a segment of America’s leaders and a percentage of its citizenry. Leadership’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the anti-maskers who follow them is the most glaring example. From the very beginning, President Trump downplayed the pandemic; it was clear to most that his end game was to downplay the pandemic not to keep the country calm as he claimed but an attempt to keep the stock market from falling. The reason for this? To try and ensure his re-election bid. As the year progressed and tens of thousands of Americans succumbed to the virus, Trump doubled down, taking no responsibility for his office’s response, openly mocking the wearing of masks, and inciting potential violence against state leaders who attempted to slow the spread of the virus as their state’s hospital systems became overwhelmed. Many GOP Congresspeople, Senators, Governors, Mayors, etc., followed suit despite the pandemic spreading like wildfire through their respective states. The loss of life took a back seat to their selfish serving agendas of maintaining their hold on power. A portion of Americans blindly followed them ignored the pleading of the medical world to wear a mask. They wrapped themselves in the American flag, shouted USA, USA, and claimed that being an American gives them the right to do as they please; this, of course, is a false belief, but even worse, it was based on the fact that refusing to wear a mask only impacts themselves, refusing to understand the obvious, it impacts anyone they come in contact with. One could argue that the entire Covid pandemic proved a large portion of America is not ready mentally to handle the freedom it enjoys because they have put their agendas ahead of what is right.
The second most glaring example is America’s current leadership attempt to undermine democracy by casting doubts and attempting to overturn the will of the people in the 2020 Presidental election. It was Abraham Lincoln in his famous Gettysburg that said
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long.
And while we are not literally at war, we each other; let us make no mistake that the Trump administration and the GOP have spent the last four years attempting to divide Americans culminating with their actions following the election. While it simple to say America will always endure, history has shown every empire has an expiration day. As Lincoln said in the Gettysburg address, America has survived all these years based on the principle, regardless of how literally it has been applied as a government of the people, by the people, for the people. And because of this, it shall not perish from the earth. It should go without saying that when Americans elect their leaders, they should expect to look to protect Americans and the democracy by which they were voted into the very seats of power they hold. Seemingly that is no longer the case. Politicians now look to protect themselves, even if that means consciously dividing the nation by sowing discontent and neglecting the very principles that this country is allegedly built on. They have no concept that when they took their oath of office, they were bestowed with great power, and with that power come great responsibility. They embrace the power while simultaneously discarding discard the responsibility it comes with. But make no mistake; it is not American leaders alone who have neglected their responsibility. The very people who vote them into their positions of power have turned a blind eye to corruption and politicians attempting to divide them and, in the case of the Presidential election, usurp the very democracy that they claim to respect so much, as long as it fits their particular view on society regardless if that view is good for the country as a whole. These Americans have proven that the concept of the power that comes with democracy, something so many in the world do not enjoy, has escaped them.
So, where do we go from here? Will we ever be able to come together as Americans? Will we ever be able to look at both sides of the coin and understand that our side is not always right, and that is OK. Will we ever, as people, hold our politicians accountable again. Will our politicians ever have the backbone to put the country ahead of their agendas again? If the Civil War lessons show us anything, we can overcome our differences and come together, at least to some extent, as one. But before we start to heal, we need to relearn what freedom truly means, the power that it holds, and the responsibility that comes with it.