Tag Archives: community

With Malice Toward None

A quote from Lincoln contained within an Esquire piece titled The United States of Cruelty:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

That is a necessary reminder in this day and age, because the author of the Esquire piece is on to something with this paragraph:

We cheer for cruelty and say that we are asking for personal responsibility among those people who are not us, because the people who are not us do not deserve the same benefits of the political commonwealth that we have. In our politics, we have become masters of camouflage. We practice fiscal cruelty and call it an economy. We practice legal cruelty and call it justice. We practice environmental cruelty and call it opportunity. We practice vicarious cruelty and call it entertainment. We practice rhetorical cruelty and call it debate. We set the best instincts of ourselves in conflict with each other until they tear each other to ribbons, and until they are no longer our best instincts but something dark and bitter and corroborate with itself. And then it fights all the institutions that our best instincts once supported, all the elements of the political commonwealth that we once thought permanent, all the arguments that we once thought settled — until there is a terrible kind of moral self-destruction that touches those institutions and leaves them soft and fragile and, eventually, evanescent. We do all these things, cruelty running through them like hot blood, and we call it our politics.

Here’s the thing; our political debates lean towards us vs. them. We agonize over paying taxes that we perceive to be too high because we think that others are riding our coattails. Are some folks slackers? Sure, but many others are victim of circumstance just like those who are beneficiaries of circumstance. In the end what we need to remind ourselves is that a “common good” does exist, that in the end it is better for ALL of us if people have access to good healthcare, clean water, healthy food and a place to lay their heads. We can debate the details about how its done, but we shouldn’t be debating about whether it’s done. That, to me, is the definition of a divided and sick society.

Obligations

Here in America we spend an awful lot of time discussing our rights, and not nearly as much time discussing the obligations we should meet in exchange for those rights. There's now a movement afoot to try and change that, as outlined by EJ Dionne in his column at the Washington Post:

And here is the sentence we often forget: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our Sacred Honor.”

This, the very last sentence of the document, is what makes the better-remembered sentence possible. One speaks of our rights. The other addresses our obligations. The freedoms we cherish are self-evident but not self-executing. The Founders pledge something “to each other,” the commonly overlooked clause in the Declaration’s final pronouncement…

Last week, the Aspen Institute gathered a politically diverse group of Americans under the banner of the “Franklin Project,” named after Ben, to declare a commitment to offering every American between the ages of 18 and 28 a chance to give a year of service to the country. The opportunities would include service in our armed forces but also time spent educating our fellow citizens, bringing them health care and preventive services, working with the least advantaged among us, and conserving our environment…

The call for universal, voluntary service is being championed by retired U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, in league with two of the country’s foremost advocates of the cause, John Bridgeland, who served in the George W. Bush administration, and Alan Khazei, co-founder of City Year, one of the nation’s most formidable volunteer groups. The trio testifies to the non-ideological and nonpartisan nature of this cause, as did a column last week endorsing the idea from Michael Gerson, my conservative Post colleague.