During the Vietnam War, the slogan “America: love it or leave it” was popular among people who demanded uncritical devotion to the government and to the war.
But uncritical devotion to the government has never been a trait of the American spirit. Americans who have moved this country forward have never been satisfied with America as it is. True patriots are those who want our country to be better.
Nineteenth-century abolitionists criticized and mobilized when our country continued to allow slavery decades after Britain and other European countries had “grown a conscience” and outlawed it. Slavery might have been legal in our country, but it was immoral.
Other Americans, sadly too few, saw the laws placing fellow Americans of Japanese descent in concentration camps during WWII for what they were — blatantly racist and xenophobic.
Decades later, Americans began to “grow a conscience” when we recognized that Jim Crow laws were immoral, even though those restrictions had been written into law. Segregated schools, bathrooms, beaches, pools, amusement parks, drinking fountains, lunch counters and even cemeteries were legal, even though we would now recognize that such laws were always shameful and immoral.
These stories of shame followed by moral awakening were brought back to me when I picked up a local paper in Georgia on my way back from Christmastime with family.
In an article, I read that Republican-appointed election officials in Lincoln County — note the irony — want to close down seven of the county’s eight voting places. They also wish to mandate in-person voting at the one polling place, meaning that African-Americans, who make up 29% of the population in Lincoln County, will have to travel up to 23 miles and stand in long lines if they wish to exercise their right to vote.
These Republican officials are doing all they can to turn Georgia back to a red state and bring Trump back into the White House. What they are doing might be legal, but it is immoral.
The sad truth is that this assault on our democracy is going on across the country. Described by some as the “second insurrection,” this drive to place obstacles in the way of voters of color will mean that the by-election of 2022 and the presidential election of 2024 have already been decided.
It is not as if we Americans don’t have a destiny, a horizon that we should be traveling toward together. We have the Bill of Rights but, more recently, we have Martin Luther King’s prophetic dream of America as the “Beloved community.” It is clear, however, that we are moving away from our destiny. The beacon light of democracy that once offered hope to the world is going out.
I admit it. I am ashamed of my country as we Americans drift away from what we can be and what we should be. The slogan of our country should not be “America — love it or leave it” but “America — history calls us to be better.”