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A Nation's Missing Identity

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

I'm writing this around 9 PM Eastern time on Tuesday, November 3, 2020. It's election day in the United States. As I type out this sentence, battleground states have not tallied their votes. We do not know who will win the election.

Twenty-four hours from now, or perhaps soon thereafter, the story will be different. We will have a winner. And when that winner is declared - whether in a few hours, a day, or a few days - there will be hope and hopelessness, catharsis and pain, regardless of who wins. Pause and consider this for a moment. Hope. Hopelessness. Catharsis. Pain. These are profound human experiences that will flow like swelling rivers through the nation after the relentless rains of a polarizing election season.

I wonder what we will do.

I wonder what we will do for the tens of millions of people who will feel acute, deep pain as a result of this election.

I wonder what we will do for the tens of millions of people who will feel hope for their vision of life slipping away as others celebrate.

I wonder what we will do for the tens of millions of people who will inevitably begin releasing the embers of their catharsis.

Will we make the mistakes we have made before - the same mistakes that organized us into this state of polarization?

I know the next person wants to feel safe, just as I want, whether her cap says "Biden" or "MAGA." I know the next person wants to be assured of being able to eat their next meal, just as I want. I know the next person wants their family to be respected, just as I want mine to be. Our common identity, and therefore a just future, lives in these simplest of wants that we all share.

The national identity of the United States is buried so deeply it seems to be missing. We have been searching for it ever since the first colonists came to this land and found a people already living here. Our ideals of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press are not yet signs of our success. They are projections of our search - a relentless, grinding search for identity. We have recognized constitutional freedoms, individualism, opportunity, entrepreneurship, economic gains, and military power. And we still search.

My experience has taught me that when we search for something relentlessly - place after place, time after time, thought after thought, election after election - and still don't find it, it just may be that what we are looking for is with us already. In the absolute exhaustion that follows endless drama, we hear the jingle of the keys already in our pocket.

Now that the votes have been cast, anticipation is reaching its climax. But no matter who wins this election, the search for our buried national identity will continue. Only when we pause searching long enough to recognize ourselves in the person next to us, no matter who they are, will the unearthing process begin. Win or lose, this is the only way forward.

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