Castles in the Sand

When the waters rise, will our castles remain?

Boy kneels with American flag in front of rows of tombstones

Memorial Day is designated as a holiday in order for us to remember those who died in the service of our country. Over the course of our nearly 250-year history, millions of people have given their lives to protect our nation and what it stands for.

I am ever grateful to those who gave everything so that we could have hope for a land where all “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Each one chose to give up their own rights to prioritize the rights of their neighbors. Today, along with a solemn, “Thank you,” I have another two-word confession to offer them:

I’m sorry.

America was founded on an ideal, a vision, one that had never before served as the basis of a nation. On that ideal, we created a structure of government that was experimental: could we really achieve something that had never been done before?

This nation was all about possibilities. It had the potential to become a beacon of hope to the world that, as Abraham Lincoln said, “government of the people, by the people, for the people” could lead to something incredible. Something that overcame oppression, persecution, hatred. Something that could truly be the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Unfortunately, such a vision requires humanity to be inherently good. It cannot survive if the people in power choose to use their authority for selfish, evil gains. Hence the creation of a federal government rooted in separation of powers. By splitting the power, the hope was that good people could restrain anyone with evil intent from gaining too much authority and becoming a tyrant.

Most of our most well-known wars have been fought over the goal of protecting ourselves and the world from tyranny. Our soldiers saw dictators across the globe and stepped into the fray to protect us and others from their potentially-unchecked power. They sacrificed their own rights to prioritize ours. All of this was in service to that dream, that vision, that believed there was a better way, and that not only could we experience it, but that we could spread that way across the globe and free nations from tyranny everywhere.

As of now, we’ve failed. The splitting of power is only as effective as the people in each position. When enough people share the same evil goals of pursuit of power at the expense of others – and those people occupy enough specific positions in government – it all falls apart. This is why it was an experiment. While our nation became the most wealthy and powerful on earth, seemingly indestructible, it actually hung like a thread on the precipice of disaster based solely on the goodness of humanity – and more specifically, the goodness of a select few humans that we place into powerful positions.

That’s the thing about being the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth: there is almost infinite potential to bring good to the world. America played key roles in two world wars in an effort to prevent the growth of hateful tyranny. Since then, we outlasted the Soviet Union and helped bring democracy to countless nations across the globe. But with all that wealth and power also comes immense potential for destruction. And it doesn’t take much to bring it about.

Today, we remember the millions of Americans who gave their lives to create and continue this great experiment. But we do so on the brink of permanent failure. These soldiers sacrificed their own lives to protect the lives of their fellow Americans. Each one died for the belief that their neighbor’s rights trumped their own. Today, 40 percent of the country refuses to accept the inconvenience of wearing a mask or staying home to protect the lives of their fellow Americans. It’s all about my rights; yours don’t matter.

The fictional Superman proudly fought for “truth, justice and the American way.” Initially, his adoptive father taught him to use his powers “in the interests of truth, tolerance and justice.” But today, the American way abandons truth and mocks justice. The idea of tolerance is about as far away as possible.

In the guise of praising our country, we have a leader who actively derides everything it professes to stand for. He does so with the military, as well. While proclaiming his support for the military, he demeans that which makes it strong. He pardons war criminals and scorns heroes who became prisoners of war while he was using his privileged position of wealth to seek repeated draft deferments. He undermines everything – both in speech and action – that make our soldiers worthy of celebration and honor. He embodies and praises an attitude that believes my rights are more important than yours, the exact opposite of the sacrificial premise on which a strong and good military is built. And he does it all while hugging the flag and provoking chants of “lock her up” and “send her back” that highlight efforts to flout justice and reject anyone who disagrees with him (regardless of where they are actually from).

Millions of Americans have given their lives to protect democracy. Meanwhile, the leaders of one of our two primary political parties actively work to destroy it right here. And 40 percent of the country cheers them on as it happens.

Because the American experiment has taught us many things, but one lesson in particular stands out: that people will choose a tyrant that agrees with them over democracy when given the chance. My rights matter, while yours don’t.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We can’t even make it past the first one, as millions of Americans are willing and eager to sacrifice the lives of their neighbors so they can go to a restaurant and get a haircut. My rights and life matter; yours don’t.

Truth, justice, and the American way. The American way is anything but truth and justice, as every effort to employ the separation of powers structure to protect our democracy is undermined by the evil intent of a small group of political leaders. There is no justice for large percentages of our population, who suffer from sexism, racism and xenophobia, and even those who are part of the majority race suffer from different standards than the wealthiest few. All the while, our leaders and their preferred media sources do everything they can to destroy any quest for objective truth.

We have failed. To all those millions of soldiers who gave their lives so that we could be better, do better, and lead the world, I’m so sorry. Today, I remember your sacrifice, and I grieve.

I grieve for your loss, and I grieve for ours. May this Memorial Day serve as a wake-up call to bring us back and see if there’s any way to save what we’re in the process of destroying. Whose rights are most important – yours or mine? How we answer that will determine if those millions of lives will have been given in vain.

I’m sorry. I hope it’s not too late, lest future Memorial Days be spent memorializing not individual soldiers, but the country they fought for.

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