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  • Monica Harris

If You Love America, It's Time to Fight For It

Democrat or Republican, POC or white, we all need to defend what’s left of our country


[Note: I've revised and updated this piece from two years ago because I believe it's more timely now than ever.]

I’m hearing the same stories from everyone. And the stories aren't just coming from passionate progressives in blue states or outraged conservatives in red states; I'm hearing them from everyone I know.

You see, I’m old fashioned. I haven’t filtered my social network based on voter preference. I haven’t culled my circle of “deplorables” or ditched people who “drank the Obama Kool Aid.” I maintain deep connections with friends of all colors and political persuasions, some who see the world more or less as I do, and others who seem to live in a completely different reality.

But the calls, emails, and texts I’m getting from all of these people carry the same desperate tone. The anguished cries from Americans watching their country fall into chaos:

Insane inflation.


Store shelves that are spotty or bare.


Smash-and-grabs and home invasions in suburbs.


Parents afraid to walk city streets with their children.


People shamed for being on the "wrong" side of any issue.


Others ostracized for not being vaxxed or boosted.


Friends and family members who no longer speak to each other.

We’re living in a country we no longer recognize and many of us desperately want to flee. We’re grieving what’s slipping away and fearing what comes next. It’s like the plot of some cringeworthy dystopian movie on Netflix — except we’re in the movie. We can’t grab the remote and turn it off. We’re trapped in this insanity.

How did we get to this place?

If someone wanted to destroy America, they couldn’t have asked for a better series of extremely unfortunate events. Yet the irony is that what’s destroying America isn’t the result of foreign “meddling.”

Russian operatives aren’t piling trillions of dollars of debt on our backs. Chinese hackers aren’t responsible for the crime wave in our cities. Mexican rapists aren’t shutting down free speech and shaming opposing voices for being conspiracy theorists or whack jobs.

We have no one to blame for this madness but ourselves. We’re destroying our own country from within.


 

The men who constructed our home knew that it would be different, and special, because nothing like it had ever been built before. It was a revolutionary experiment.

But they also knew it was a fragile experiment that would be difficult to maintain for fifty years ,  much less two and a half centuries . So they equipped the people who would later inhabit it with the tools they would need to America standing. In hindsight, they did a pretty damn good job.


Our home has withstood ugly, blistering times.

It's survived economic depression and world wars. It’s endured Red Scares, radical social transformation, and a pandemic that killed 50 million people worldwide. It’s weathered all kinds of presidential administrations, a legislative branch controlled by a single party, and a lop-sided Supreme Court.

But what America wasn’t designed to withstand is bitter, unrelenting division among its citizens. That’s our Achilles' Heel. Abraham Lincoln reminded us of our fatal weakness on the eve of the Civil War, the moment our country almost ceased to exist: “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.”

And now our house is in grave danger again.

Today, we’re more divided than we’ve been in 150 years, and this time it’s going to be a lot harder to keep our house from falling. Not just because we’re attacking and belittling each other for our values, the way we live, and the way we vote. We’ve done that before, and we’ve managed to keep our house standing.

This time, we’re facing more than division; we’re facing an existential crisis. We’re losing our will to live. We're losing our faith in the beauty of this experiment.


We’re being encouraged to condemn the revolutionary minds who built our home  because they were less-than-woke two centuries ago.

We’re excusing opportunists who further discrimination under the guise of promoting equity. We're looking the other way as miscreants wreck the cities we built together and deride the men and women who risk their lives to protect them. We're electing politicians who find billions of dollars to support "freedom" in other countries, yet can't find money to support struggling businesses or keep baby formula on shelves.

We've convinced ourselves that celebrating our flaws and ignoring our strengths is our only path to salvation. We’re encouraged to worship the demons that haunt us. We loathe the people we once were and the people we’ve worked hard to become. We remind ourselves — day in and day out — that our country was built on the backs of slaves and the tears of indigenous people.


We relentlessly shame ourselves for the ugliness of our past with no appreciation for the beauty of who we are now and what we've accomplished.

America hates itself.


To some extent, this self-flagellation is understandable, even inevitable. As a black woman, I grew up seeing the stark difference between the country America is “supposed” to be and the one it really is. Do we live in a nation with a lot of karma to burn off? Absolutely. Is it fair to say that America is finally reaping what it's sown and that our self-loathing is justified? Yes.

But self-loathing has its limits.

Because people who are conditioned to hate themselves eventually lose self-respect and self-esteem. They stop caring about their country because they don’t think they “deserve” to live in a country worth caring about; eventually, they turn a blind eye and disassociate themselves as it implodes. And that’s what’s happening to Americans now. We’re losing our will to keep our house standing. Our self-loathing is destroying us.

No, America isn’t perfect, and it wasn’t built to be perfect. It was never “great” for everyone, and it’s a dim shadow of what it once was.

But it’s still our home. The one we built together. And like it or not, it’s the only one we’ve got.

We don’t have to be proud of the way we built it; we’ve gotten a whole lot wrong since the first bricks were laid. We’ve often betrayed our principles. We’ve lost our way too many times and have struggled to get back on course. We’ve been hostile to others who’ve tried to enter our home and brutal to others born within our walls.


But this doesn’t mean we should lose sight of what we’ve gotten right. It doesn’t mean our house isn’t worth fighting for.

Since we first moved into this home, we’ve made major improvements that allowed us to expand our family. We’ve made space for people who were once forbidden to live here with us. We’ve added rooms and wings our ancestors never dreamed of, or even wanted. We’ve raised the ceilings. We’ve even inspired others in our "neighborhood" to make changes to their own homes.

Like any family, we haven’t always gotten along. We’ve argued and fought about which improvements we should make to our home and who should be allowed to live under our roof. Sometimes our ideas have worked, and sometimes we’ve made mistakes that have weakened our walls.

But we've never forgotten the lessons from 150 years ago, the last time we almost destroyed our house. We’ve kept in mind that we all have the right to disagree, and we all have the right to suggest changes we should make to our house. We’ve recognized that everyone in our family has an equal voice, and no one should be treated like they’re crazy or don’t belong here.

This is how we’ve kept our home standing. Not because we’ve always loved or even liked each other, but because we’ve respected our collective right to live here together. And most of all, because we love our home and what it represents.

But our house is in serious trouble now.

The roof is collapsing, the walls are buckling, and the floorboards are giving way. And unless we’ve resigned ourselves to die in the rubble, we’d better repair the damage before it’s too late. Unless we want to lose the roof over our heads -- the only thing sheltering us from the elements -- we’d better figure out a way to keep this place from falling apart. And we'd better do it damn fast.


It's time for us to come together and do some major remodeling. It's time for us to repair the things that aren’t working for any of us anymore, replace what's completely broken, and make some upgrades.


We may even need an extreme makeover.

The architects of our home gave us the tools to do this. They endowed us with the right to believe whatever we want and to question everything; checks and balances to control those in power; and the means to resist tyranny in any form. These are tools we’ve taken for granted for too long, but if we want to keep our house standing, we need to find the courage to use them now . We need to be prepared to fight to keep this house standing, with everything we’ve got.

Many of us are afraid that we've gone too far. We think our home can't possibly withstand more bad decisions and bad leadership by "other" members of our family. Some even think it's time to divide our home into different wings so we never have to see or interact with each other. We worry that too much damage has been done, and that all hope is lost. We think collapse is inevitable.


I believe we still have time, my friends. It's not too late.


If we’re willing to fight to keep this house standing and protect the foundation it’s built on, I believe we can survive three more years of Biden. We can survive four more years of Trump (or anyone else). We can survive inflation, supply shortages, and even climate change.

But we can't survive if we give up on America.


 

Regardless of which political party you favor and who you think will "save" us, please keep this in mind:

If we treat other members of our family like they’re stupid, crazy, or dangerous because they don’t agree with us, then we’re not living in a house worth saving.


If we think other members of our family should be silenced and not have a voice in the home we all share, then we’re not living in a house worth saving.


If we keep electing people who do nothing to keep our house standing, and even accelerate its collapse, then we’re not living in a house worth saving.


And if we're not willing to use the tools our ancestors left us to repair our house, then it's not worth saving.

Yes, America is failing badly now. But an imperfect and ragged America is so much better than what awaits us if we give up on this experiment. It’s up to us to decide how this ends. This is our country. This is our house, and there will never be another one like it. United, it will stand; but if we remain divided, it will surely fall.


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