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Sunday, October 7, 2018

Passport to American Ideals

United States of America

I was completing an application to renew my passport today, when I noticed for the first time, that there are quotes imprinted on each page 6 through 28. Those are the pages where Customs officers stamp the passport upon entry.

There are twelve quotations or excerpts from documents, that are included in our passports to express the beliefs of the American People. Five of the twelve quotes are by presidents of our great Nation. All twelve are beautiful and inspiring. I encourage you to look at them the next time you pull out your passport. I am focusing primarily on the presidential quotes today.

Birthplace of George Washington

At the inception of our country, we hear the following from George Washington —.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.”

George Washington

In 1776, our new nation valued intelligent thought and honesty. Thumbs up from me!
The first Capitol of the U.S., in Annapolis, MD

“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.”

excerpt from the Declaration of Independence

As we know, Thomas Jefferson was the author of much of the Declaration of Independence, although his name is not printed in the passport. I love Jefferson’s way of saying essentially, ‘well, of COURSE we are all equal, Duh.” Of course from the perspective of 2018, we recognize that Jefferson owned slaves and nowhere in our nation were women treated as equal with men at that time. But still, STILL those words remain so powerful, SO beautiful.
Traveling threshing team, c. 1930

The next president’s quote to be included in the passport is from Theodore Roosevelt, the president that I think of as the adventurer, who traveled across our nation and other countries, as well.

“This is a new nation, based on a mighty continent, of boundless possibilities.”
Theodore Roosevelt

In 1901, our nation valued and acknowledged our might in the world. We knew that the very size of our country held a breadth of resources yet to be discovered. Diverse landscapes, diverse peoples, diverse thoughts. The opportunities before the people must have stretched out to some unimaginable future in 1901.
U.S. Allies in WWI

After our country had fought and bled in two World Wars, President Eisenhower had this to say,

“Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower

In 1953, we acknowledged that we could and would have influence in the broader world. We would however, need to achieve our hopes of liberty for the People here on our own soil, if we had any chance of leading other nations toward the goal of liberty for all.

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
John F. Kennedy
Poverty in Appalachian America.

Kennedy is the first president that I can remember from my childhood. I know exactly where I was when he was assassinated, as do all other Americans alive at that time. I remember feeling so proud of this president. Later, I would learn that he was a man with frailties and foibles like everyone else. But during his short presidency, he proved a charismatic, powerful leader of ALL the American people.

In 1961 our nation recognized that we were not the champions of the world, but that we believed in our national duty to be a beacon toward liberty for all. There might be more war and we would come together to endure whatever might be required in that pursuit. Liberty must survive! It was the time of the Arms Race; it was the Bay of Pigs. My earliest memories of American national identity were that there were very big and scary people outside our borders that wished Americans harm.

Kennedy Space Center, Florida

“For this is what America is all about. It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge. It is the star that is not reached and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed ground. Is our world gone? We say “Farewell.” Is a new world coming? We welcome it — and we will bend it to the hopes of man.”
Lyndon B. Johnson

In 1965, although Lyndon Johnson would never be the charismatic leader that President Kennedy had been, he carried the torch for liberty forward. The 50’s and 60’s were such a tumultuous time. So MUCH was happening so quickly. Johnson’s Great Society domestic programs were put forth in hopes of eliminating poverty and racial injustice. The Civil Rights Movement was a volatile time; tragedies were repeated across the country time and again. Fear and hatefulness drenched our People. We must recognize that large groups of those who were disenfranchised still reside in that unjust place within our borders.
Full moon over Cuba

We are painted with a bruised national and international palette. The Berlin Wall and Blockade, the Cold War, Dètente, and the divisiveness of McCarthyism—the practice of “publicizing accusations of treason and disloyalty with insufficient evidence.” A practice that sounds eerily like current practice rampant in our nation.

The last quote which I have chosen to include is not from a president. It is by a woman who was born into slavery in 1858 in Raleigh, North Carolina. She was the daughter of an enslaved woman and either the white landowner or his brother. I admit I had no knowledge of this woman before today and a bit of research was required. I admit embarrassment in the fact that I, as a white woman in America, do not know enough about black history in America.

Alex Haley reading to African American children.
Statue on Ego Alley, Annapolis, MD

“The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race, or a sect, a party or a class — it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”
            Anna Julia Cooper

This brilliant woman who became a well-educated writer, teacher and activist started life in the most rude of circumstances. She was the offspring of rape by a white (<- power) man (<- power) perpetrated against a woman of color who possessed no rights of citizenship. It would take a war within our country’s borders to tackle citizenship for ALL Americans followed by struggles continuing to the present day. I am glad that her perspective is represented in our passports. A woman with a clear voice, speaking for people of all races, all religions, all political parties and all socioeconomic statuses.
Church in colonial Hawaii

I see her statement as prescient for the events of today. And though she does not specifically name “gender” in her list, her very existence is proof of that intent.

And finally, I conclude with a more current quotation from a president. It hasn’t made its’ way into our passports, nor do I think it ever will. I think you will recognize the author immediately.

“It's just fake. It's fake. It's made-up stuff. It's disgraceful what happens, but that happens in the—that happens in the world of politics."

Wall Street, New York, NY
Trump on being accused of rape, White House Rose Garden press conference, 2017

I will leave it to the reader to evaluate the above quote from the perspective of the previously stated American ideals:
Intelligent thought
Unlimited Possibility
Liberty for all
Loyalty and trustworthiness to our allies
Inclusion of all races, religions, thought and class

Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor

Our American story isn’t a done deal, of course. Our current national scenario of “fake news,” distrust of women in positions of power, and the accumulation of obscene wealth serving as the means for the few to wield power over the People are not foregone conclusions. We, and we alone are the ones who will decide the course of our future American story. Do we cling to our American ideals? Or, do we trade them in for something lesser — something cheaper, something that requires less effort?

1 comment:

Keith & Nicki Davie/Dunbar said...

I never would have expected - at middle age - that I would be ashamed of my country and its representatives as they currently exist, but we have come to that place. Your words say it far more eloquently than I have managed myself, and I thank you.
And I am reminded of other words from the past. Often attributed to one or another famous figure from history, it is not - but it does state the case clearly:
“Now is the time for all good men ( and women!) to come to the aid of their country.”
May it be so.