September 11, 2022, represents the 21st anniversary of the terrorist attacks by Islamic jihadists on the United States. Attackers piloted commercial airlines into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and attempted to pilot a fourth plane into the U.S. Capitol.
If you talk to most Americans, they distinctly remember the tragedy and horror that took place on September 11, 2001.
In fact, nearly everyone can recall exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard that American Airlines flight 11 hit the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City at 8:46 AM on that fateful morning.
Chances are, they will also remember the profound sense of national unity that pervaded the nation in the days and weeks following 9/11.
Brief glimpses into that unity include former President George W. Bush’s speech to emergency rescue personnel at Ground Zero three days after the attacks and his first pitch right across home plate of game three of the World Series.
But today, on September 11, 2022, due to our immense political and partisan divide, is there any substantive material that unites all Americans in mind, heart, and purpose?
Our national motto, “E pluribus unum” is Latin for “Out of many, one.”
But what unites us now?
In which ways are we and our fellow citizens one?
What is our unum?
Surely, as possible solutions to these questions, we cannot answer that faith, language, ethnicity, or political opinions bring us together. Americans are deeply divided on each one of those areas.
But we could float a couple of possible answers.
It’s true that Americans are united in our collective and shared history.
Just one month prior to the onset of the Civil War, former President Abraham Lincoln gave his first inaugural address.
In it, he said that despite the crucible the Union was facing, “We are not enemies, but friends.
“The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature” (emphasis added).
We all have a sense of our shared national history, our “mystic chords of memory,” as Lincoln put it. But is that enough to unify “one” people out of many, especially since so many wish to rewrite or reject our history?
Another possible answer is that we are united in our laws and form of government.
But given that different parties and political factions disagree over what our nation’s governing document, the U.S. Constitution, means and requires, it’s not clear that this is a strong enough answer to bind our nation together.
So, if it’s not our shared history, our form of government, or our faith, language, ethnicity, or political opinions that bring all citizens together, what does?
I’m not sure that an answer is readily apparent.
Perhaps Americans have never been entirely united. It’s frequently said that during the American Revolution, one-third of the colonists supported the revolution, one-third were loyal to Great Britain, and one-third were neutral on the cause of independence.
Disagreement seems to be woven into the fiber of American history, and Americans.
So maybe, what brings us together is that which pulls us apart.
As Americans, we all have the freedom to debate and disagree. We duel – vocally and at the ballot box – over our politicians, our laws, our duties, and the direction of our nation.
We can vigorously dissent, plot our own way, and chart our own course.
Among our unalienable Rights are “Liberty” and “the pursuit of Happiness.” And how each person wishes to exercise those rights is different.
So maybe our ability to disagree and dissent is what brings us together.
Is that enough to keep us “out of many, one?”
Only history yet untold will say.
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