Note: The following came together after reading the Letter to the Editor by Larry A. Douglas published in the Messenger’s November 9-15 issue under the title “Opinion: The Caravan is a real threat to our country.”
Yes, we live in a particularly divided time and, yes, our immigration laws, especially as they pertain to the Southern border, are desperately dysfunctional, having eluded reform since 1990.
Surely, however, these are not the worst of times. The United States has been divided since its inception along rural, urban and racial lines, as it is today. The mud slinging began even while the sainted George Washington was in office. It exploded into the open during the first contested presidential election, between Jefferson and Adams in 1796. Famously, the Whiskey Rebellion boiled over in 1794, its focal point right here in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and Americans faced down Americans with malice aforethought. Patriots such as Albert Gallatin rose to the occasion, found common ground and this early wound in the nation’s fabric was stitched up. And, of course, there was that little matter of Civil War, which consumed the years 1861 to 1865 and over 600,000 lives, the aftershocks felt to this day.
In the rubble of two atrocities is a seed of hope.
If you have spent even one afternoon in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill, you know it to be a pleasant urban village teeming with variety and cosmopolitan panache. Recently, a Pittsburgh native entered a synagogue in Squirrel Hill and gunned down eleven of the faithful observing the Jewish Sabbath.
If you have visited Charleston SC, you know it to be a welcoming place, steeped in elegant living and Southern charm. In June 2015, a young born and bred South Carolinian entered a historic black church in the heart of Charleston and gunned down nine of its faithful during Bible study.
The hopeful part is the parallel responses of the two congregations. In the immediate aftermath of their sanctuaries being so horribly violated, the Tree of Life Synagogue and the Mother Emanuel AME Church, with humility and verve, forgave the killers. In the best Judeo-Christian spirit, they overcame reaction and vengefulness. Both showed amazing grace indeed.
It is worth asking: will a leader be revealed who is a modern day Albert Gallatin, rising above the extremes of right and left, to represent the Silent Reasonable Majority yearning for reconciliation and peace? Which of our institutions will step up, opt out of the political game and its arch preoccupation with winning and losing, to speak truth to power?