It is particularly poignant at this point in our history as politicians (of all political persuasions) and pundits (of all levels of intelligence) attempt to poison the well by claiming the worldviews and opinions of those with whom they disagree are “Un-American,” meaning, “Not only do I disagree with X, but X is saying things that demonstrate he is against America and American values.” I have said in the past and continue to believe that these types of arguments are a threat to maintaining any degree of civil discourse in the United States. What they really say is this: “You’re not a part of us (the ‘real,’ ‘true’ America), therefore what you have to say isn’t important and I don’t have to listen to it.”
One of my favorite quotes is from President John F. Kennedy; he spoke the words in his famous commencement address at American University in Washington, D.C., in June of 1963, a scant five months before he was assassinated. At least two major films have concluded with it: Thirteen Days (poetically) and The Sum of All Fears (awkwardly). The speech was intended to reset relations with the Soviet Union and demonstrate a commitment to lasting and secure peace in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis. These were Kennedy’s words:
So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.
Indeed while we may not always agree, we are all Americans and it is, in fact, our diversity that make us “American.” Diversity of thought, diversity of color, diversity of creed, all of these things combine to produce something quite unique. If there is such a thing as American exceptionalism, it’s something intangible. And even if our system will never be perfect, our ideals most certainly should be.
I highly recommend you give ” Un-American” a read.