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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

E pluribus

The writing on our coins: e pluribus unum originally meant "from many states, one nation." It was an affirmation of the Constitution of the United States.  From the resistance of tyranny by many states to the foundation of a new united nation.

That unity has been seriously challenged throughout the history of the nation. It is challenged today. How we perceive the foundation of unity makes all the difference in how we understand the strains and polarizations that threaten the nation today.

Carlos Lozada wrote an excellent piece on Samuel Huntington, the great political thinker, and his connection to the Age of Trump. I began reading Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations about ten year ago. But I could not finish because I so vehemently disagreed with his analysis.

Description and prescription interact. How you diagnose a problem shapes your solution. The solution you prescribe shapes your analysis of the problem.  And both problem and solution, I learned in Divinity School under Al Pritchard, are shaped by vision and values--what we want.

Huntington in The Clash was analyzing the American situation and proposing a course of action that I refuse to accept for myself, my community, and my species. It is the very solution that Trump, influenced by Steve Bannon, is selling to hurting people who see themselves as victims. It is the view of Victor Hanson, the Stanford classicist become political pundit, who blames the decline of America on Mexicans (Mexifornia), identity politics, multiculturalism in schools and in culture. Build the wall!

According to this description and prescription, the True America and its foundation is in its Anglo-Saxon heritage, its calvinist roots in support capitalism, the frontier spirit of taking land and taming the wild through hard toil, its English language, and a set of propositions that comes out of English common law and philosophy but was refined and clarified by the founders. If strangers come, they must assimilate, become, act, and believe like true patriots.

But Lozada pointed out that there is another Huntington, the one before he lost hope and became cynical. In American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony, Huntington presented another foundation for unity. Lozada indicates it is a credal unity, a belief in what America stands for. "What holds America together is not about ethnic identity or religious faith (note: I prefer to say religious 'beliefs' for reasons I will explain), but about political belief (and here I prefer to say 'faith')." We hold these truths, Huntington says. Who holds these truths? Americans do. Americans are defined by their political faith or what many of us have called our civil religion.

In this view, America is held together by a dream, not the economic one of wealth and domination, not the cultural one of same religion, but the political one of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" or "freedom and justice for all." All who have this dream, whoever they are, wherever they come from, whatever they believe, however they live their lives, whomever they love, and however they express this dream, they, i.e. we, are Americans. Indeed, diversity and disharmony in culture and economy provide the occasion and opportunity for unity.

These are such radically different analyses and prescriptions, based on such different visions and values of humanity and of American politics. They indicate the crisis we face today, along with our feelings of unsettlement, hurt, fear, and anger. America is in crisis, at a point of decision once again.


Next: American Faith and American Belief.

And next: Interpreting the American Religion.

And then: In defense of identity politics and political correctness.

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