I do not know a single soldier, intelligence official, diplomat, or public servant who has ever asked their fellow American soldiers, or colleagues, whether or not they are Democrat, Republican, or Independent before standing together in defense of the Constitution of the United States of America, or our shared values.
Solemnity is present for anyone who serves, or has served, on this Memorial Day. As Americans, it is our responsibility to remember the sacrifices made to defend the rights that are codified in the U.S. Constitution.
All those who have died in battle died for a single reason: to defend our Constitution. Each served despite party affiliation or ideology. They did not ask others serving if they were Muslim, Jewish, atheist, Christian, LGBT, or of a specific ethnic group before putting themselves on the front line to defend, and then die for one another—to die for us.
Each died to defend the secular and pluralistic values that underpin our nation; values that permit each of us to live freely and independently as one. These shared values create a sanctuary for our diverse beliefs so that we may strive and thrive in unity, while honoring and respecting our differences.
Difference is America.
It is the intricate fabric that unifies and strengthens us. It is what makes us resilient and lends us our collective strength.
Recently, we have lost more than soldiers. We have begun to lose dignity, respect, integrity, politeness, neighborliness, friendship, community, unity, and, therefore, our collective strength as a nation. Few Americans would argue that this is our collective desired outcome. We have simply permitted it due to our own apathy and indifference to the strength of our differing views.
America is now at risk of becoming plagued by our own apathy and complacency in the midst of our individual and collective fears—particularly as fear-based populist politics are used to divide us rather than unite us. The path to soft tyranny is present.
Alexis de Tocqueville described soft tyranny eloquently. Tocqueville stated in the mid-1850s that apathy is a dangerous form of “soft” despotism that “breeds fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the general populace.” He continued:
“Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government [and corporations] are the shepherds.”
Conversely, Tocqueville acknowledged that soft tyranny could be avoided, not through politics, but through “habits of the heart.”
On this Memorial Day, ask yourself: what’s truly in our hearts? I highly doubt that any American would honestly say that today’s form of politics are what they desire on a deep, spiritual level.
We have to be the shepherds of our American lives, together.
We mustn’t give over our agency as citizens to government or corporations, and definitely not to fear.
We mustn’t let our own apathy stultify our ability to participate in collective action to overcome our fears or intolerance.
We mustn’t permit this form of tyranny to extinguish the fire of liberal democratic governance amongst ourselves in our American republic.
Today, we honor the men and women who have served us; let’s honor each other too, and embrace our differences as that which makes America truly great. These times behoove us to remember the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
“All your strength is in your union, all your danger is in discord; therefore, be at peace henceforward, and as brothers [and sisters] live together.”
As you spend time with family and friends today, talk about what unifies us, our shared values, and discuss how the legacy of our generation will be remembered in the future. In turn, remember all Americans who have died for us over the last 241 years; this is the least we can do one day each year.
Author: Dr. Matthew Wilburn King
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Editor: Leah Sugerman