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Robin Beres column, July 30, 2020: Are we still united by our common beliefs?
AMERICA 2020

Robin Beres column, July 30, 2020: Are we still united by our common beliefs?

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Ninety-one candidates from 41 countries were sworn in as citizens during a ceremony at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture on July 4, 2019.

As August approaches, the nation remains caught in the throes of a virus that will not end. We continue to live abbreviated lives of restricted movement. Over the past four months, we have seen one of the strongest economies on record plummet at record-setting speed.

Most schools have no plans to reopen in the fall, opting for virtual instruction. Parents are left to figure out how to juggle work (if they are lucky enough to still have a job) and educate their children.

If the virally mandated reordering of our lives was not maddening enough, the brutal murder of George Floyd by a police officer on Memorial Day stunned and angered Americans. The video of Floyd’s death ignited a national backlash over police brutality that continues to reverberate. Americans of all colors, creeds and constituencies joined in protests to demand true equality for Black Americans.

But in the weeks since the protests began, the original message of the movement seems to have been hijacked. The demonstrations are growing uglier and more violent. Just as all Black Americans have been so wrongly vilified for the crimes of a few, police officers everywhere have been unfairly accused of brutality. Tensions grow tighter.

While thousands are protesting, other Americans remain in their homes, concerned about what they see happening to their country. They watch the burnings and the riots. They see young men and women carrying weapons and wearing militant outfits in standoffs against police officers and federal agents in riot gear and protective shields. Even Richmond has seen such scenes.

So far, the violence committed has been mainly to property. Nationally, there have been a handful of deaths — one is too many — but how long before it escalates into something terrible? Many protesters are carrying assault rifles. What happens when someone gets carried away in a tense and angry atmosphere, and urban warfare erupts?

Rarely in our history has political animosity been so loud or so ugly. The president and Congress both are complicit in fostering this internal war pitting Americans against one another. Even the mainstream news media is drawn along political lines.

And concerned Americans are not the only ones taking notes. Other nations are observing the disintegration of the America that led the world for 75 years since the end of World War II. Chinese, Russian and Iranian governments gleefully are assessing our internal disputes. They revel in the self-destruction and encourage it via social media. Our quarrels play right into their hands.

But even more discouraging than our detractors’ contempt is the concern and pity shown by friends and allies. Many world leaders worry about our stability. Commentators from Asia to the European Union have remarked on our plight and wonder what the consequences of a diminished America might mean to the world order.

In an op-ed column in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Daniel Schwammenthal, a German Jew living in Brussels, sums up those concerns. He writes: “I learned to cherish the U.S. long before I had the privilege to live and study there …What Madeleine Albright called the “indispensable nation” meant the difference between life and death for my family. … America today is what it has always been: a flawed society, like all others, but also a unique force for good in the world. No other multiethnic, multireligious society can credibly claim to be more democratic, more prosperous and more just than the U.S.

“But America can’t remain the leader of the free world if it is itself no longer free. To be the guarantor of Western security requires military and economic power, but also a sense of mission. And right now, Americans are committing mass character suicide. If the country … convinces itself that it’s inherently and irredeemably racist, it can’t possibly continue to believe that it has any right to lead.”

Thirty years ago, we were united. The Berlin Wall had fallen, communism was on the brink and we had freed Kuwait from an Iranian invasion. We, like most of the world, believed despite our flaws, we were freedom’s biggest advocate.

Back then, Americans still put aside politics and joined civic organizations, church groups and other volunteer activities. We honored the Constitution and the rule of law. We saluted the flag, and in song and prayer, we asked God to bless the country.

Today, do we still believe that no matter what happens, no matter how different or how divided we become, we all are Americans and still bound by our love of country? Do we still support the Constitution? Do we still appreciate our freedoms? Do social media users appreciate their freedom to post almost anything, no matter how vile, about American leaders, government or the nation without fear of being hauled off to prison?

Robin Beres is the deputy editor of the Opinions pages. Contact her at: mberes@timesdispatch.com

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