To Stand United at Home and Abroad
I’ve watched the events unfold in Ukraine over the past several days with a mixture of fear, helplessness, and faith. I fear that we are once again on the precipice of a conflict with a terrifying insecure dictator who possesses the ability to plunge the whole world into war. I feel helpless watching what could be the opening act of yet one more devastating war – one with possibly the highest stakes in a generation. And yet, I have faith that as our history has shown, even in the most devastating of times and after the gravest of human atrocity and injustice, good overcomes evil. Love wins out. Often painfully and accompanied by much sacrifice, love wins. We express this ultimate belief in our shared, essential humanity with our declarations of unity with the Ukrainian people, as we have done so often in other geopolitical conflicts, humanitarian crises, military confrontations, and social injustices where it seems clear to us as individuals and a society that what is happening over there is unjust. That we should do something. And that if all we can do is stand with them in solidarity, then by God, let us do that. I agree with this wholeheartedly, and am grateful that we have the tools and mediums to express ourselves so quickly in support of a people being treated so unjustly, over there.
I’d be lying to you if I said that was all I felt. I also feel there is something slightly flawed in our collective expression of unity with the Ukrainian people. Don’t misread or mistake what I am saying. I believe absolutely that we should be united with Ukraine. That is not the issue. On a purely human level, what they are experiencing is the result of an evil dictator’s fulfillment of his promises, and their resistance is inspiring. It should also provoke soul searching among us. For how can we truly – TRULY – stand united with anyone else, when we remain so deeply divided here in America? How can we help other countries navigate their own conflicts internally or with nation-neighbors, when we seem incapable of resolving even the most basic disconnections within our own society?
I wonder, was our lack of unity in our own country, in fact, part of the calculus of the decision for Russia to invade Ukraine? That America and the West are wrestling with such deep internal divisions, warring within ourselves over our own humanity, arguing who should get this right, or who should get that one, who is entitled to these privileges, and who should get those, debating what history they choose to remember and which they conveniently forget? That the great irony of the cliché “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is playing out in front of our very eyes and we can’t even recognize it?
Oh, my friends, we have lost our way. We are racing towards the bottom with one another’s heads in chokeholds, instead of reaching skyward, hands clasped together. We forget slavery at our peril. We forget the Civil War at our peril. We forget Jim Crow at our peril. We forget the Great Depression at our peril. We forget the Holocaust at our peril. We forget World War II at our peril. We forget the Cold War at our peril. We forget failed nation-building at our peril. We forget the Civil Rights Movement at our peril. We forget the most recent 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan at our peril. Too many people have died, have sacrificed their lives in these great horrors and the resulting fights for freedom and justice that came with them.
I believe the lesson that all of these things are consistently trying to teach us is this: if we seek to defend democracy around the world as the beacon of hope that we have always aspired to be, then we must also seek to defend democracy at home. In order for us to effectively stand united with Ukraine or any other nation or people whose basic human rights and democratic freedoms are under assault, we must do the same here.
I believe we can, and should, do both. We are at our best when we recognize that we can address the issues of injustice, inequality and inhumanity in our own country, while we respond to the world’s pleas for help from us, a nation who has led on the world stage for the better part of our history.
So yes, I stand with Ukraine, and I hope you do, too. And, I hope we all use this an opportunity to look in the mirror and reflect on two things.1) If, God forbid, we faced a large-scale military aggression directly targeted at the U.S., an invasion like what Ukraine is seeing right now, would we even be able to stop debating which president’s fault it was long enough to mount a collective, cohesive defense, or would our deep division render us impotent in the face of an enemy seeking to conquer us? 2) If standing with Ukraine makes you feel good, because you are expressing support for another human being in obvious suffering in another part of the world, who are the human beings in suffering around you – around us – and why isn’t their suffering as obvious?
Stand with Ukraine, yes, my friends. ONE MILLION yes’s. And, stand as the United States of America. That promise of Unity, our occasional fulfillment of it at home, and our gradual progress towards the ideals it represents are the sources of our strength. That is what we need here in America, and that is what our friends and allies need from us in the world.
There is a passage in the Bible that seems relevant and inspiring for today, and you don’t have to be a religious person to grasp its meaning for us today. I share it with you, my fellow Americans, and with my fellow human beings suffering in Ukraine at this very moment. It is from Numbers 6:24-26 in the New King James Bible:
“The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.”