Nothing is black and white. Not abortion, not gun control, not the role government should play in our lives, and not whether a person is good or bad. But in the end, we measure the gray and make a decision: black or white. We all do this, whether we admit it or not. A man leads an exemplary life, is down on his luck and finds himself addicted to drugs and commits a crime. We weigh it and decide: good man who made a mistake or bad man who couldn’t appreciate what he had?
What about us as a nation? The answer is simple, of course: we are a great nation, a great people. Flawed, but striving to adhere to principles that make us all proud. Freedom, liberty, justice. Fair treatment of all, a constitution that is the envy of the world. We have a history of helping those who need help. We believe in truth and facts and optimism and strength and compassion. Yes, we are flawed. We have had (and still struggle mightily with) the iniquities of institutional racism, of unfair treatment of women, of putting our own interests ahead of the world at times. We are indeed flawed, but we know it, and for decades we have constantly compared who we are to whom we strive to be. It is how we want our children to be, our loved ones to be, our leaders to be: always striving for a greater good.
This is the answer many of us have been telling ourselves during the past three years in order to understand and explain what has happened. Yes, there are people who do not believe in these core American principles. There are among us those who embrace racism, nationalism, selfishness. Who see our needs as greater than the needs of the world and are willing to sacrifice others for our gains – instead of adhering to the values on which we were born as a nation, values that would naturally lead to our own well-being as well as that of others, not either/or. But these people have always been a minority and they represent a “flawed” part of our nation. They are part of us, still members of the family, but not the ones we are proud of.
Starting two years ago in 2016 with the election of our President, many of us have been saying “this nationalism, this racism, this denying of facts, this blaming of others, this declaring of enemies, this incessant selfishness over principle, is not us. It is an aberration. It is an exception. It will run its course.”
But we have been wrong. Yes, everything is gray. There are many reasons why the election went as it did: a minority of voters won the election; too many people stayed home; there were mistakes made. But in the end, in the voting booth, everything is reduced to black or white. We, as a nation, elected this president. We, as a nation, are behaving selfishly, racially, nationalistically, foolishly. We, as a nation, deny facts and smear anyone who disagrees with us. We are now dominated by the flawed part of who we used to be. It is time to stop saying this is not who we are. This IS who we are, because in the end, everything is black and white.
It is a dark, heavy, dangerous time. It could stay dark for a very long time and it will if we believe and act as though it is really a sunny day and there is just a cloud passing overhead. America can be great, even as we carry the burdens of our flaws. We are great when we do the right thing and at the same time strive not to do the wrong thing. But that is not who we are today.
Are we lost? No, not yet. We can throw off the darkness. We can rely once again on the principles we were founded on. We are not lost because we can move the shadows back to being a part of us but not who we are. And the only way to do that is to vote. Never has it been more important say to the world and to ourselves: this is who we are.