“It is a common observation here that our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own.” —Benjamin Franklin, 1777
It was indeed a high ideal, worthy of striving for: a country where all men were considered created equal. But, as many point out, even those who dreamed it up didn’t really understand what it entailed.
Yet still, America won her independence from Great Britain and set off on her quest. To welcome the immigrants, whether they be poor or wealthy, hungry or replete. To truly endeavor to deliver liberty and justice for all.
There was a learning curve, of course. There had to be for a nation that enslaved people of color, that treated women as property, that ignored or even condemned those with a different nature (read “with a different sexual preference”). Our nation was nearly a century old when we fought each other over the right to own humans of a different color. And women were not given the right to vote for another fifty to sixty years. A steep learning curve we still climb.
And still we strive. Our Constitution guides us. We want to answer its charge and form a perfect Union of our states. But as the number of states has grown, as more and more immigrants have made their homes here, we have faced a growing quandary. Who is right and who is wrong when so many want such different things? How can we expect a farmer of Hispanic descent to want the same things as a lawyer of white European descent or a businessman whose grandparents moved here from the Middle East?
The very nature of our union of states makes our unified mission ever more difficult. What is easy for the cosmopolitan to accept goes against the very grain of the rural. Add in religious beliefs and splits deepen to crevasses.
And still, until recently, I thought we might someday achieve our perfect union. Until the day our president issued a disturbing statement that women of color who had been duly elected to represent their constituents should “go back to where they came from.”
In that moment, we went from George Washington chopping down a cherry tree to Donald Trump taking an axe to the founding principles of our country. It’s a deep crevasse to fall into, and now we stand divided on either side, teetering on the decision of whether to follow him in or not.
Meanwhile, the enemies of the long-lasting American experiment watch for the opportunity to push us all in. A divided America is much easier to defeat than a “perfect Union”. I like to think that Benjamin Franklin foresaw these circumstances from the beginning. Certainly, when he looked at his fellow signers and co-conspirators and said, “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately,” he voiced the fear they all felt. But those words may apply now, too. If our nation proves divisible after all, we will all be left hanging—by our fingertips on the edge of a chasm.