Houston, we have a problem. That’s right, we, not just you, for in America we are all in this together. We bind each other’s wounds. We bear each other’s burdens. And out of your distress will come our national salvation.
If this sounds like a holy mission, it is. For America’s moral values are the same as God’s. Just as the law and the prophets point to the Golden Rule, America’s constitution and its laws protect our collective and individual welfare. While America sails a secular ship of state, the values of God — truth, love, mercy and justice — surely propel it ever forward.
The biblical imperative to be our brother’s keeper is the essence of what it means to be an American. It finds expression in the Preamble to the Constitution, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
This ethos of collective action for the greater good is an inherent American quality. But we’ve forgotten that. We have allowed the storms of politics and the heated passions of civil strife to obscure this truth. A generation was raised on the idea that government is bad, and that we are left wholly to fend for ourselves. This pervasive “I’ve got mine, you get yours” mindset has created a national state of despair. Drugs now affect every socioeconomic group.
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And then the 1,000-year flood slams the Texas coast. In the immediacy of disaster discord dissipates. We shudder at the sight of America’s fourth-largest city submerged in sea muck. We feel great sympathy for those made homeless. The thought of losing everything and of having our lives so upended is unbearable. We can’t help but feel immense gratitude for our own safety and comfort, and for FEMA, our federal agency renowned for disaster relief.
Mostly, we want to help. People across America are rushing forth. They’re giving their time, their money and their talents to the cause. They’re sponsoring fund-raisers and blood drives and volunteering to take displaced families.
This is the true and natural state of the American character. Alexis de Tocqueville was right, “America is great because Americans are good.” And we are at our best when we stand united through our federal government.
The challenge is to carry this truth in our minds, and bury it in our breasts when the winds are still. When we’re tailgating and cheering, or grilling shrimps on the barbie. When we’re able to work or play or study or worship at will, safe and sound.
In times of calm we’re oblivious to what it takes to keep us that way on a national level. We rarely see the sufferings of many fellow citizens, nor consider the importance of our federal safety net. For by helping them, we make the whole stronger and thereby help ourselves
It is easy to forget that America is an interconnected quilt. The tighter its weave, the stronger we are. Sometimes it takes a storm to help us remember.
In Houston, we’ve found the solution.
Richard Dawahare is an attorney in Lexington.