There was a time when the largest class of immigrants to the United States came from Great Britain. A large number of those erstwhile Englishmen and their descendants fought two wars with their one-time homeland. In spite of the British going so far as to burn down part of Washington D.C. during one of those wars, we still cleave to Great Britain as our closest ally. Neither we nor the British held grudges.
Then about one hundred years after the War of 1812 against our British cousins we joined with them in WWI against Germany. At the end of WWI, even though there were a great many citizens of the United States who traced their lineage to Germany, we signed on to the mean-spirited Treaty of Versailles in an effort to punish the Germans. Of course, as with many such badly intentioned actions, we also ended up punishing ourselves; WWII resulted. But thanks to such charitable American actions as the Marshall Plan, we made great allies out of modern Germany, Italy and some other WWII adversaries at the end of that conflict.
While Reconstruction and the aftermath of the American Civil War could have been handled much better, it also could have been much worse. Thanks to such attitudes as expressed by President Lincoln and others in both the Union and Confederacy, malice was held down and charity was exhibited. Even with hundreds of thousands of deaths and carnage throughout our country we managed to pull together and build what would become a living monument to ideals that had once been only dreams. America needs much more work to become that more perfect union but nowhere else have humans got so near the brass ring and a generous volksgeist has made that possible.
The spirit of openness, generosity and optimism that pervaded much of America after WWII might be helpful today. While such vital interests as equal rights and due process still require much work by all of us, a cooperative attitude and an impulse to be helpful might assuage our current social and political disagreements. What is less likely to be productive is the placement of unnecessary distance between United States citizens and their governments at all levels: federal; state; county; local and areas generally under government regulation such as transportation.
After 9/11 some governments and industries reacted out of fear and concern. Whereas citizens had normally seen their governments as there to serve them, with the restrictions of 9/11, governments appeared to fear those whom they were instituted to serve and who paid their wages. We began to develop a culture where many in and outside of government and the industries regulated by government felt we lived in an “us versus them” environment.
This might have caused just ennui and nostalgia had COVID-19 not arrived. But with the absolute necessity of all-out governmental and societal warfare against COVID-19, the distances between citizens and their governments have become almost complete. We must have some governmental services and we cannot expect people to perform those tasks if we do not provide for their protection. And we are still months away from a return to normality. But we may want to guard against a possible permanent condition of a bifurcated country with the citizens on one side and their governments generally inaccessible on the other.
With that in mind our current imbroglio involving our national government might be placed among these other lessons from our past. What is not called for is more distance between citizens and their elected and appointed representatives. Perhaps instead of a mean-spirited partisanship a mutual sense of charity tempered with common sense might be more in our country’s long-term best interest.