"The hopes and dreams that unite us are greater than the fears that drive us apart."
Anyone watching the Republican National Convention two weeks ago could easily get the impression that America is coming apart at the seams, particularly if one happened to catch Donald Trump's acceptance speech on July 21. On the other hand, anyone following the aftermath of the recent tragedies in Baton Rouge could just as easily conclude that a nation's real strength lies in the ability of its people to come together in times of crisis. Therein lies one of the great truths about America: Division typically flows from the top down, but unity rises from the bottom up.
In Cleveland, speaker after GOP speaker painted a dark, dystopian picture of America's future. To hear them tell it, crime is out of control in America's cities, hordes of illegal immigrants bent on our destruction are flooding our shores, and foreign powers are sucking jobs out of our economy — all because of President Barack Obama's policies. Never mind that on Obama's watch the stock market has doubled, the nation's unemployment rate fell from nearly 8 percent to less than 5 percent, more Americans than ever have access to affordable health care, and U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden and captured a trove of al-Qaida documents. As James Carville once said to a Bill Clinton critic: "What didn't you like about the Clinton years — the peace or the prosperity?"
And just last week, GOP nominee Donald Trump invited Russia — Russia! — to hack into U.S. servers to retrieve Hillary Clinton's "missing" emails. Many rightly wondered if Trump understood the federal statutes on treason. At a minimum, Trump's latest gaffe makes Ted Cruz's refusal to endorse the GOP nominee look like an act of patriotism — and it underscores why so many prominent Republicans refused to attend their party's convention.
Contrast all that with the last two weeks in Baton Rouge, where an obviously disturbed military veteran from Missouri deliberately murdered three local police officers, apparently in response to cops killing Alton Sterling a week earlier. As much as African-American citizens in the Capitol City were outraged by Sterling's killing, and as much as they and others defiantly marched in protest to call the nation's attention to a police department that critics say has a history of abusing black citizens, the entire city of Baton Rouge came together to mourn the murder of the three officers. Indeed, many who protested or were arrested during the protests after Sterling's death publicly expressed their sorrow and solidarity with the families and friends of the fallen officers.
Sadly, some politicians have tried to capitalize on the tragedies in Baton Rouge. Some even tried to use those tragedies as a wedge to divide us. Thankfully, the people of Baton Rouge — and all Louisiana — reminded them of something former New Orleans Mayor Dutch Morial said more than 40 years ago: "The hopes and dreams that unite us are greater than the fears that drive us apart."
That, too, is America.