Growing up in the Northwest, I was taught this nation was a “melting pot.” A country of many ethnic backgrounds all smooshed together to form a nation of variety, invention, assimilation and being better off for the mixture.
“Melting pot.” It had a nice ring to it. Colorful words meaning this nation was founded, then improved by the diversity each new face brought to our shores. Something entirely different from other countries of more singular ethnicities. And it seemed to work for a long time.
But, sadly, somewhere along the way, we lost the idea of mixing and replaced it with exclusion, separateness and division. People of a common language, a common color, a common religion or any of a dozen differences stopped mingling and, instead, most formed separate communities of near isolation.
We have Black communities and Hebrew communities. Hispanic communities. We have Irish, Polish, Russian, Norwegian, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and many other singularly exclusive areas.
We have Black radio and television. When’s the last time you watch Black TV? Hispanic, Chinese, Korean and other broadcasters and print media targeting specific groups. We have areas of the nation that don’t welcome people of other races or religious beliefs. People talk of not going into parts of their own city of residence. I was once held against my will for 24 hours largely because I was a White man in a Black neighborhood of rioters.
A lot of this was brought to mind when the shooter in the El Paso killings told police he drove nine hours from the Dalles-Forth Worth area to kill Hispanics because “that’s where most of them lived in Texas” and he didn’t want to kill in his hometown. But, he wanted to kill people gathered in a particular location. Crazy? Yes. Twisted thinking? Certainly. But, that’s what he said and the blood was real.
Our dangerous President is not to blame for all this. We’ve been a divided nation for many years. But, he’s become a master at using our “separateness” against us to drive divisions and hatred. He’s wielded racism as a club against those of differing skin colors. He’s used his own destructive brand of politics in attempts to disable our government and let loose conditions - often ruinous conditions - to violate laws of both man and nature.
There’s an old story about two brothers engaged in a fight. Pounding each other. But, when someone else attacked one of the brothers, they jointly battled the intruder.
It used to be much the same with America. We tangled and tussled among ourselves. We had our disagreements and our differences. But, when outsiders - other nations - provoked us or fomented wars against us, we turned as one to deal with the outsider. We fought wars in which Americans of differing skin colors, differing religions, differing ethnicities, differing sexual orientation acted together. Bound by a single purpose regardless of our differences.
In many ways, we’ve lost that uniformity of acting as one. Maybe the terrible division wrought by the war in Viet Nam was a turning point when national purpose was so openly and so fiercely divided. For many Americans, those divisions are still there. Maybe when we lost the comity and respect for relationships in our political affairs was another. No more working for the good of the whole. Now, it’s trench warfare with good ideas and “what’s-best-for-the-country” becoming victims of yet more division and disrespect for our institutions. And, in many cases, for each other.
The melting pot was a good idea. And it’s still a good idea. Our homeland never prospered as much as when we worked together, ignoring differences to reach common purpose. Whether in war or striving to send astronauts to the moon or defeating dictators or developing mind-bending technologies and great advances in medicine for our national benefit. Individuals of many backgrounds dedicated to achievements of universal purpose.
Curmudgeon that I am, I doubt we will ever again see a true national melting pot. Still, some say the young among us aren’t as devoted to divisions as we older folk. We’re told they don’t get so tangled up on sexuality or race or national origin as many of us do. Some believe they’re better able to look past differences to concentrate on more important things. That they’re more pliable of thought and better able to work together for common purpose.
I pray that is so. Because, 14 months from now, we and they are going to have to be united “as one” to beat a common foe. We who love this country, and the diversity that’s made it work, will be called to look past our differences and unite to expunge our government of those who have tried so hard to separate us.
We’ll need the best of that old melting pot to join in singleness of national purpose.