November 19, 2016

Here’s one way to look at what we’re supposed to do with ourselves for the next four years and beyond: Regardless of who’s in Washington, our state capitals, our city councils, and our local, state, and federal courts, we all have a responsibility to help the United States keep its promises.

I’m seeing this impulse all over the place right now with safe harbor pledges, Congressional calling campaigns, donations to progressive causes, etc. We all have a sense of what promises have been made to us, and we try to ensure that those promises will be kept for all Americans.

So my question is this: Is it possible for Americans all along the political spectrum to agree on what these promises are? Maybe if we could re-establish consensus around a handful of central principles, even if our applications of those principles vary in their specifics, we could talk more productively across the divide.

I’ll start by offering a preliminary set of five promises that to me seem supported by the country’s essential documents and traditions (though certainly not by its actions at many times and in many places).

  1. Openness to immigrants: what used to be called toleration or the ethic of the melting pot and is now termed multiculturalism;
  1. Equitable economic opportunity: the myth–but still worthy aspiration–that anyone can pursue wealth and happiness through talent, hard work, and luck;
  1. Equal protection under the law: this one packs a lot in, including (a) the fundamental rule of law, (b) government protection of our lives, (c) protection of our liberty–though not at the expense of others’ liberty, and (d) equitable application of the law;
  1. Stable governmental institutions: maintenance of the systems of checks and balances, respect for the Constitution, peaceful transfers of power; and
  1. Commitment to progress: public education, funding of science and technology, the attempt to solve problems when those problems threaten the vitality or even existence of the country.

I can think of five more I’d like to add right away, and another six or eight that I wish were more supported by our documents and traditions (universal health care, environmental stewardship, fair representation, equitable wealth distribution, etc.), but I’m just hoping to start a discussion that we can keep alive in one form or another while we try to understand what to do next.

Let’s look both backwards and forwards in the life of our country while we also look to our left and right and try to understand how others perceive the history and future of the United States.

What promises do you feel are at the heart of the American experience?