OPINION: Liberty and Justice for all



Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Veterans’ Day. The holy trinity of American patriotic holidays. As a serving Army National Guard officer and since, as a retired general, I’ve been asked and tasked to speak at commemorations and celebrations of these American landmark days.

Even though virtually all of our media, whether mainstream, right-wing or left-wing, portrays us as a society hopelessly politically divided, we all seem to be able to come together to honor our nation’s war dead on Memorial Day, the beginning of our struggle for independence on the Fourth of July and the veterans of our military services on Veterans’ Day.

Whether speaking to a few dozen assembled folks at a cemetery… or directly to a CSPAN television camera … I always reach back into our common history searching for words to inspire us today.

We are not a perfect nation. We are not a perfect people. We are an aspirational people.

There are those on the right who decry those on the left. There are those on the left who impugn those on the right. There are those in the center who just wish they would be quiet and enjoy life. Each of those viewpoints believes the other is terribly, terribly wrong, in fact believes the other is stupid and even evil.

The truth of the matter is that virtually all Americans are deeply patriotic. We all love our country.

We disagree on what the way forward is. We disagree on how to get there and how to pay for it and how to use the great resources of this great nation. But we all agree that we can be a better nation, a better people.

We may disagree on how the Constitution should be interpreted, but we all agree that the Constitution, as the Preamble states, was written and adopted “in order to form a more perfect union.” That’s aspiration.

Too much of what we see and hear on social media, on cable news, on the floors of Congress is not aspiration but fear and frustration.

Companies make money by selling fear and frustration. More clicks, more re-tweets, more outrage means more divisiveness between Americans and more money in someone’s pocket.

Let us reconsider what our common goal is.

Let us reconsider it before we attack our neighbor for his or her political views.

Let us reconsider it before we slander someone on social media.

Let us remember that while we may say, “We hate the New York Yankees or the New England Patriots,” we don’t really hate them. Their fans are just terribly misguided people, but they love their kids, they celebrate holidays and they, like we do, aspire to a better life.

Like Yankee fans or Patriot fans, Democratic politicians don’t drink the blood of children and Republican politicians don’t want to enslave people of color.

What they do want to do is hold on to power. Some of them at any price.

Be wary, very wary, of those who seek power at any price.

Let us remember and think about the final clause of the 31 words of the Pledge of Allegiance, “With liberty and justice for all.” Those words, like the words of the Preamble to the Constitution, are aspirational words.

When our nation was born our Constitution recognized and accepted slavery. It recognized and accepted native Americans as less than whites. It neither recognized nor accepted women as full citizens.

With those aspirational words and constant struggle, we have moved forward from those affronts to liberty and justice for all. We are not there yet. We will never get there, for nations, like people, are imperfect, but we can never lose sight of the aspiration.

As we, as a society, move toward liberty and justice for all, we must consider what those words mean:

Liberty means freedom.

Justice means fair treatment by the law.

To live in society, we cannot have complete freedom. We surrender the right to drive our cars a hundred miles an hour on city streets.

And what is justice? The law forbids all from sleeping in a city park. It applies to a rich person as well as a poor person. Is this not justice?

Do we need to consider how seemingly fair laws have a disproportionate impact? Is writing false, incendiary comments on social media different from yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater?

In a complex, freedom-loving society such as ours, if the answer to a complex question is written on a bumper sticker, you can be assured that it ignores the many viewpoints of those who live in a free society.

Let us join together as one nation to seek liberty and justice for all.

(William Enyart is a former U.S. congressman for Illinois’ 12th District and a retired two-star general with 35 years in the military serving in the U.S. Air Force, ultimately serving as Adjutant General of Illinois commanding both the Illinois Army and Air National Guard. He started his working life as a member of UAW Local 145, Montgomery, Ill. where he and his father both worked for Caterpillar Tractor Co. The Enyarts live in Belleville, Ill. This column has been edited and reprinted from Enyart’s blog, “Reflections from the River” at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1089968).


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