In the last few years—particularly the last week— Americans have been challenged to rediscover our nation’s soul, to reflect on who we are and what we stand for. To begin that work, we must first put aside a myth we have been taught since childhood: the myth that we illuminate the world with a shining light of freedom and justice, that we are exceptional. In fact, that light of freedom and justice does not even illuminate much of our own nation. Rather than exceptional, we are deeply flawed and the time to mend the errors of our ways is running short.
A large share of the burden for the mending task falls on the shoulders of white Americans. We must recognize that many of us have lived with privileges and opportunities that have been denied to millions of our fellow citizens solely because their skin is not white.
Most of the nation’s political and economic structures have been built and controlled by white men since the nation’s founding, and each of those structures (government, business, education, health care, infrastructure, environment, wage and labor standards, rule of law) needs reforming. And, the reformation must reflect what could be our greatest asset: America’s gender and racial diversity.
The founding idea that birthed America truly was and remains exceptional, and the principles on which the nation was built are sound. However, those principles were never fully formed. We have never, for instance, lived into the idea that all men and women are created equal. There has always been a privileged class. Much of our political/economic structure is built to support the maintenance of that privilege and ensure that it is passed from one generation to the next.
America is today burdened by a president who inherited his membership in the privileged class, and he has surrounded himself with sycophantic co-conspirators who have joined with him in stripping away the two primary mechanisms of government that undergird work toward equality: the rule of law and voting rights. He is a significant stumbling block for those of us who believe it is time to reimagine the nation, but this piece is not about him. It is about me, and anyone who reads it.
Here is what I stand for:
I believe that a major transformation of our culture is required to confront the racism, misogyny, sexism, homophobia, gun violence and economic inequality that threatens the future of the nation.
I believe that health care is a human right, not a privilege of wealth; that our system of education needs to look more like Denmark’s than like that of 1950 America.
I believe that climate change is a mortal threat to the future of our country and the world.
I believe that racial, gender and religious diversity should be front and center in all of our social, political and business institutions; that all children regardless of race or economic circumstances should live in safe neighborhoods, eat nutritious meals, and have equal access to high-quality education from early-childhood through college/vocational training.
I believe that these goals for children will only be achieved if their parents earn a living wage, have the necessary paid time off to care for their children, and receive economic and social support when needed.
I believe that America needs to regain our status as a member of the global community of nations, and to work across borders to promote equality and peace; we need to strengthen relationships with allies and international institutions such as the World Health and the World Trade Organizations; we need to rekindle our participation in abandoned agreements, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the international nuclear agreement with Iran, and on the subject of climate change.
I believe that the young immigrants we now classify as “Dreamers” should have immediate access to full citizenship, and that we must once again become a nation that is welcoming to the stranger.
I believe that America must have a regulatory system that promotes safety, clean air and water, safe food and equitable workplaces as basic human rights; and we must have a tax system that raises the funds necessary to accomplish all of the above.
Finally, we need an energized and engaged citizenry ready to debate and work for new ideas, and we need political bodies that will work for the common good rather than for themselves.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.