Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, “I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
America is still good. Not everyone can be found in a house of worship, whether that be a church, synagogue or mosque, but the faiths that animated our founders instilled religious values into the very founding documents and institutions they created. George Washington wrote of the importance of the “Indisputable supports…of religion and morality.”
You need look no further than the killing field in Las Vegas to see evidence that America is still good. In the face of showering bullets from an evil man, “we the people” revealed Americans at their best.
Throughout these weeks, we have heard story after story of individuals who made a difference. Men like Brennan Stewart, Jack Beaton, and Chris Hazencomb who died throwing their bodies over loved ones. Others were wounded protecting people they didn’t even know. People stopped to serve while others lifted the wounded and carried them to safety. First responders raced into the field of fire to find and neutralize a gunman they could not see. Medics risked their own lives to find and treat the wounded.
The news and talk shows certainly have focused on the lone killer—his methods, his weapons, and his motivation. Evil attracts eyeballs to the nightly news shows and the sponsors who support them. But increasingly, the heroic stories continue to surface as an inspiration to us all.
Every hurricane or natural disaster reveals similar stories. Long before the government can mobilize their resources to help those who need it, it’s neighbor helping neighbor that attests to the true health and strength of America.
Terrorists and mass killers assault our sensibilities because in America all lives matter. We may never fully live up to our ideals, but such disasters reveal that our shared values matter. The vast majority of citizens of all genders, races and religious affiliations live out those values when the times and situations demand it.
Government will always have a place in providing needed help, but it remains “we the people” that make it all work. The goodness of man is what shines through when natural tragedies and acts of evil occur.
Alexis de Tocqueville added, “The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.” But the real challenge is bringing those same values to help transform the divisions that plague us in our everyday lives.
In Vegas, Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico, the color of one’s skin and the political and religious affiliations meant nothing to those helping. No one asked or cared; they just helped. There was no name calling or rancorous demonstrations that distracted us from making a difference…together.
Maybe that is what we needed to learn that what really makes America great is “we the people” living up to the goodness our maker and parents taught us to live out daily. Thank you to all those first responders and citizens who showed us what being American is really about. May each of us do our part to let that same goodness guide our choices in how we treat each other every day.
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