Chris: We are told we are American, but what does it mean to be an American anymore? We pledge allegiance to the same flag, but each of us see a different vision projected by those stars and stripes.
As political polarization intensifies, the question of what it means to be an American continues to tear our communities apart as we battle to provide a better answer. America used to stand for freedom, or at least that is what we’re told, yet now we ban the very immigrants our monuments claim we pride ourselves in accepting into our communities. America used to be a safe haven from persecution, yet now it appears that we need a new haven to escape the persecutions of today’s America.
I grew up being told that immigrants like my family represented the American Dream. Yet as every day passes, the dream my family once held dear is increasingly drowned out by a sea of nativism being expressed by those who would rather see us oppressed if it meant the comfort of their supremacy could continue.
In my early childhood, we elected the first black president. The willingness of our country to elect a candidate who both embodied and projected positive change gave me hope for the future of our country. But we replaced him with the embodiment of what our country currently is—toxic and divisive. And as we continue to tear our communities apart, the question of what it means to be an American will continue to be in contention.
What I now recognize as the American Dream is a vision lost amid the hatred of our time. A vision lost because we have broken the fundamental pillar of our democracy: the willingness to listen to one another with respect.
Jason: By now it’s redundant to say that America is no longer up to business as usual. Some rejoice in this news with the hopeful anticipation that a chaotic administration will one day lead to a state where Washington, D.C. is no longer beholden to special interests instead of the people. However, for many, this is quite a frightening development that threatens our cherished and timed-tested political institutions, civic culture, and fundamental values as a people.
Both schools of thought have more than sufficient reason to either be concerned or optimistic for change. Yet somehow, these two sides have recently found a way to consistently talk past each other, not only blind to the merits of the opposing sides’ objectives but adamantly hostile in the same way one views an enemy in war.
In some ways, it is actually worse than that. In a war, the individual components have nothing against the people they are fighting against: They only take orders from bosses with conflicting strategic aims. As politics now devolves into a culture war, the two sides, before mere ideological parties, now view each other as intrinsically immoral and hostile.
This devolution of discourse exacerbates our divisions in race, class, and religion. Instead of exchanging ideas respectfully, we now fight to prevent what we believe is actual evil from succeeding. If we do not change the way we exchange ideas, only the loudest will succeed, either because they have ignited mobs to chant them in unison or because they are being shouted from the Oval Office. If we don’t approach one another with respect, but instead vilify each other merely because of our disagreements, we will feed the very evils we fear into existence.
Chris: We vilify one another not because our ideas are actually evil, but because we are never willing to actually listen to them. Instead of exposing ourselves to the possibility that perhaps there is a better position on an issue from our own, we continue to feed the divisiveness that is tearing our communities apart.
All we have to do is look at the most recent natural disasters we have experienced. In Houston, Tx., my family was amidst a sea of people who were willing to aid one another in their greatest time of need, not because they shared the same skin color, religion, or political party, but because they were all in the storm together. Our country is currently in the storm. The damage from which we will be forced to recuperate will leave scars too big for us to heal as individuals. It is time we realize that we are in this together and understand that the only way we truly heal individually is by healing as one nation.
Christian Navarrete ’20 and Jason Chukwuma ’20 live in Kirkland House.