What will your vote mean 150 years from now? Odd question huh? I ask it because I’ve recently begun re-reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” which portrays Abraham Lincoln and members of his cabinet. In 1862 (150 years ago), our nation was in the midst of the Civil War. Despite having some argue about State’s Rights, it’s hard to dismiss slavery being a major cause of the conflict. What else was going on way back then? In addition to the Civil War, 150 years ago the Sioux Indians were involved in a major uprising that eventually led to their demise (and the largest mass execution ever conducted by the United States). It wasn’t a good time to be a person of color. It wasn’t a great time to be a woman either. In fact, I’ll conclude this paragraph by stating women were not even allowed to vote back in those days. America was certainly a different place in 1862.
Do you ever wonder what America will be like in the future? What will we stand for? Will it still be the great melting pot “for the land of the free and the home of the brave?” Those who once advocated for slavery, Indian removal and against Women’s Suffrage – would they be surprised if you could bring them back into the present? Certainly, we have problems with other nations that treat women and minorities as less than. Certainly, we’ve protested against the atrocities perpetrated by others for reasons of religion, land and ethnic cleansing. Yes indeed, we’ve come a long way since the days of Abraham Lincoln. We have, haven’t we?
For sure, projecting into the future is difficult. Along with this, we often times get caught up in the immediate. This puts our present needs at the top of most priority lists. Much of this is called for. Much of this is not. History is replete with instances where we might have gotten carried away out of fear (and the immediate). The internment of Japanese Americans at the beginning of World War II comes to mind. But, I digress. Let’s get back to our voting habits.
While we can poke fun at those who supported positions that would seem barbaric today, does it ever enter into our consciousness that some of the stuff we presently advocate for will one day be seen as worthy of criticism? Who are the under-served today? Who are the ridiculed? How do we treat the poor? What of our Gay and Lesbian population? Are we accepting of diverse cultures and thought? Hopefully, we won’t go back to the times when minorities were marginalized, men made the decisions about women’s rights and beliefs (sometimes superstitions), which led many to deny advances in science and technology. How we vote and what we support will have a profound effect on the nation we’ll own years down the road. For the last decade, America has been asked to deal with wars (we still haven’t figured out the Afghanistan mess), a troubled economy and significant turmoil throughout the world. We do many extraordinary things. We’ve contributed billions of dollars for disaster relief efforts, opened our colleges to learners from all over the world and stood up to tyranny when called for (an example being World War II). We also do other things that raise a few eyebrows. When they wipe away the dust from our ancient ruins thousands (hopefully) of years from now, how will we be perceived?
So, take care of your wallet and pocketbook. But, don’t you think that we need to make sure that this land of freedoms is able to protect those freedoms for all Americans in the future? As a nation, we’ve traveled deep into space, made incredible advances in technology and have formed a governmental system with endless possibilities. Giving tomorrow’s Americans the gifts of this nation will be the most beautiful gift of all. A stable economy is indeed a paramount concern. Welcoming others and caring for those who struggle should be paramount as well.
With all of this said, we now spend millions of dollars having politicians bash each other while our schools and roads crumble. We also argue about banners, Christmas Trees and whether or not our president was born in the United States (or is a Muslim) while each day thousands of our young people fight in far-off lands. In addition to this – rather than putting our efforts into prevention and treatment, we continue to wage a war against drugs that leads to prison sentences for individuals with addictions and mental health concerns. Heck, we now have a situation where in some parts of the country, it is easier for some to purchase a gun then for them to vote. Is that what we stand for?
America is a great idea. The idea of America is great because it embraces rather than distances. Our ability to reinvent ourselves is something few nations have been able to do. Why then do we wind up being against so much? Defend our allies and borders, fine. Protect our interests, O.K. But, every once in a while it is important to check what those interests are. What we choose to support helps to keep the idea of America in the forefront. Ever stable in change – America, forever a work in progress.
Earlier I referred to our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was by no means a perfect individual. What is incredibly admirable about him however, is his ability to grow, as well as his talent for making seemingly opposite points of view connect. Lincoln also felt that for America to heal after the Civil War, the southern states needed to be embraced. If he could work with a Team of Rivals – don’t you think we should as well? Vote wisely my friend.
An occasional commentator in the Warwick Beacon, Robert Houghtaling has run the East Greenwich drug prevention program for years and is the founder of the Eastern Youth to Youth Conference that has been run for the past 24 years.