A Present for America on Her Birthday

Americans encounter the phrase “E Pluribus Unum” (“Out of Many, One”) ‎daily. It appears on the one dollar bill and on all U.S. coins.

But from colonial times to recent times, some of America’s greatest minds have doubted that certain groups could ever be part of the “one.” For example, Benjamin Franklin stated “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.”‎ (It’s amazing how the complexion thing has always been a focus of excluding people from being part of the “one”–even, once upon a time, Northern European, Protestant Christian Germans.)

Yet people adhering to such pessimistic beliefs have generally been proven wrong.‎ America has continuously and–though sometimes taking two steps forward and one step back–successfully widened the groups of Americans to whom E Pluribus Unum applies.‎  (In this regard, see the 2016 episode of Anthony Bourdain’s television show Parts Unknown about Houston [here– https://youtu.be/Q3KE3-u4s3U ].)‎

America’s success in achieving E Pluribus Unum is clearly incomplete. But that doesn’t mean that the majority of Americans don’t aspire to it as an ideal for our country, and are proud of what has been accomplished in that regard to date.‎ ‎Yet today more people on both sides of the political aisle are questioning loyalty to common values and ideals, as well as whether America possesses a culture of inclusion and belonging. It would be a nice present to our country this holiday if more of us could take a deep breath and reflect for a moment on how‎ many of us in America–of all races, religions and ethnicities–are in fact striving for the same things: a decent opportunity to make a better life for ourselves and our families, regardless of our race, religion or ethnicity; the right, in the words of Arthur Schlesinger, to live and experience the world as individuals (in the words of Donald Glover, as “a blank slate”, or, more colorfully, as “big and White…like Will Smith”); and the freedom to lead our lives in accordance with our own beliefs and wishes, unencumbered by the arbitrary abuse of power. In this regard, Americans are remarkably “one”.

Happy Fourth everyone.


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