By Rev. Stephen Tillett
One of the advantages of living in an open society like the United States is that it has become home to people from all over the world. Their experiences and histories become a part of us. Right now, many of those people are sounding the alarm and warning us that things they see happening here happened in the countries of their birth and had very dangerous outcomes. They see the same rise of authoritarianism, the decimation of governing and societal norms and a reliance on violence to dissuade or silence others. These were the ingredients that led to the weakening or destruction of the governments and societies in the lands from whence they have come.
It is naïveté or arrogance to assume that the outcomes that occurred elsewhere in the world cannot afflict us here as well. We have reached an inflection point. We have to decide whether our government and society only works for us if we get our way, or if we are committed enough to this American experiment to stick with it even when our candidates don’t win, or our bills don’t pass, or our nominees don’t receive appointments. We can either have it our way or continue to benefit from and enjoy the stability and protections of our constitutional republic. We cannot have both. The choice is ours.
When being sworn into the US Air Force years ago, I took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…and bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” Those who serve us in elected office have taken a similar oath. However, unless we live out that oath, together, based on devotion to the Constitution and the rule of law, we will decline and dissipate like every other former great power.
Unless we put country before party and before self-interest, our days as the “United” States are numbered. In 1780, Founding Father and the second president of the U.S., John Adams, shared his concern about “parties.” He wrote, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.” How prophetic those words have become.
For any marriage to survive the tests of time, the couple must choose to stay together no matter what and understand that compromise will be necessary. The moment we believe that our government is working only if we get our way, we have surely missed the point, and dissolution comes next.
Being a citizen of this country requires us to understand that the rule of law matters, and no one is above it. Being an American requires us to “support and defend the Constitution” and free and fair elections both when our candidate wins an election and when they don’t. Sharing in the citizenry of our country should compel us to stand in opposition to any attempt to overthrow our (own) government, just because some didn’t get their way.
We can decide that maintaining what we have, imperfections and all, is worth preserving, or we can decide since “I” am not getting “my way,” I choose to burn it all down, wage war, in whatever form, against my fellow citizens, and assume that whatever comes next will be better than what we have now.
I promise you that will not be the case. Once we’ve blown this up, whatever comes next will be both unrecognizable and unsatisfactory. And since you have determined that your way is the only way, even people with whom you once agreed, when they eventually dare to have a different opinion or perspective from yours, they, too, will become “the enemy.”
You can have the United States of America, or you can have your way, you cannot have both. We will either “learn to live together” as fellow Americans “or perish together as fools.” The choice is ours.
Rev. Stephen Tillett, Pastor of Asbury Broadneck United Methodist Church in Annapolis, Md., is author of Stop Falling for the Okeydoke: How the Lie of “Race” Continues to Undermine Our Country. He is also Political Analyst for The Lavonia Perryman Show (910 AM Superstation, Detroit, iHeart Radio, Apple Radio, Roku)