I spent a few days in Washington, D.C. this week. On Wednesday morning, I went for a jog around the National Mall, and then just before 1 p.m., I stopped at a Starbucks for lunch and free wireless access. A few minutes later, Twitter began moving reports about the shooting at the Holocaust Museum, which I had run past less than an hour earlier.
The tragedy struck me hard because I had been so close to the museum that day. I listened as media commentators tried to make sense of a senseless act, and it reminded me of other unfortunate events we’ve experienced in our country -- segregation, prejudice, hatred and injustice.
Those that try to make the wrong act at the museum make sense – give it to much credence – it was simply wrong. The words of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. came to my mind, “The time is always right to do what is right.”
The security guard who died heroically in the line of duty, Stephen Tyrone Johns, did what was right. The person who pulled the trigger did what was wrong. There is no other way to explain what happened – it’s simply wrong versus right.
In “5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours,” co-authored with my father Newt Gingrich, principle five is Be True to Yourself, which includes discovering who you are, using your strengths, doing the right thing, and being authentic.
In retrospect – maybe we should have highlighted ‘doing the right thing’ first.
There are two parts to doing the right thing. The first is living with truth and honesty in your actions. This is a challenge in itself, but the second part is even harder: extending yourself to do what you know should be done. It is taking that extra step to ensure you do what is right.
Authenticity means knowing who you are and striving to be that person in every situation while, at the same time, treating others with respect. Authenticity is hard to achieve – you must be brutally honest in exposing your weaknesses, failings, and faults in addition to your strengths and achievements. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable requires great strength.
This call for authenticity and self - knowledge -- being true to oneself – is also applicable on the national level.
To remember the origin of our own country’s identity, we look to the Declaration of Independence, which states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men 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.”
Our future is predicated on our understanding and belief that every American has an equal opportunity to pursue their happiness.
Unfortunately, it seems the current White House administration is becoming increasingly out of touch with our American identity. The 2008 presidential election is the result of the current administration winning based on rhetoric and articulation rather than policy and platform.
The consequence is enormous. Not only is the administration rapidly spending our money (promising to halve the deficit after tripling it, and planning on doubling our national debt in the next decade). But this rapid government intervention is greater than just pre-spending our future taxes. It includes government intervention into banking, insurance, automotive companies, corporate pay and, soon, healthcare – this overreach of government into American lives is not consistent with America’s identity.
Historically, we have been a nation of makers, risk-takers, entrepreneurs, innovators and hard workers. We are a nation of liberators – lovers of freedom and believers in God. This belief in God provides us with optimism – in the belief in a brighter future and an understanding of our importance in the wider, meaningful pattern of life.
We have been a country of opportunity for settlers – immigrants could arrive penniless on Ellis Island, dream big and work hard and become American success stories. Today, we still value the importance of hard work and tenacity, and want to reward these with success and respect. We understand the importance of family, of communities, and helping each other through bad times.
We understand that being an American calls us to be part of something larger than ourselves. This sense of belonging, of being rooted, turns each of us into a link between history and posterity, and we become part of a greater story.
The tragedy of understanding was James von Brunn’s. Even though he was a World War II veteran who served his country – he failed to understand the lessons of America’s past and did not understand his role in contributing to the greater story – our great American story.