What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism by Dan Rather

Dan Rather is one of my all-time favorites, and I have no problem saying the guy is a total stud. What an amazing, remarkable career and life this man has lead. His book was another on the list that was sorely needed because of it’s positive outlook despite the troubled times we were going through in 2020. His is a perspective that is earned because he was, quite literally, on the ground when major events took place over the course of the 20th century, and his travels and connections throughout the world give him a unique perspective on everything that is happening around us. Rather is someone who refuses to believe that we are not better than we are, and he also refuses to believe that we don’t have what it takes to cure everything that ails us, from politics to climate change to poverty to racial justice to, well, just about everything. He is raw, true, and real, and his is a voice that we all need to hear as much as we can before himself and people like him aren’t around anymore to guide us to a better place. This book is a quick read, but a necessary one.

  • “the greatness of america lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults” — De Tocqueville
  • constitution, our rule of law, our traditions, our work ethic, our empathy, our pragmatism, and our basic decency — when we cultivate these instincts, we soar, when we sow the seeds of division, hatred and small mindedness, we falter
  • the united states does not belong to any one of us
  • most people are rooting for the US to succeed because of our ideals
  • in every community on every day, there are so many who choose to do the right thing
  • patriotism is not a cudgel — it is not an arms race
  • we are bound together by a grand experiment in government, the rule of law, and common bonds of citizenship — this is what it means to be an american
  • we should neither forget nor be paralyzed by our prior national sins
  • MLK and civil rights peoples were infused with an unbreakable optimism that they would prevail
  • Washington — “to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism”
  • nationalism = place your country in a position of moral and cultural supremacy over others
  • patriotism = dialogue with your fellow citizens, what you love about your country but also how it can be improved
  • descent from patriotism to nationalism can be subtle and dangerous
  • 9/11 — climate of panic and hubris — Patriot Act, torture, Iraq
  • flag pin — during the Nixon admin, pins were sported by republican politicians as a response to the antiwar and social protests
  • we are a nation not only of dreamers, but of fixers
  • our nation will not survive as we know it without engaged and committed population
  • Medgar Evers — shot in jackson on his front porch while his wife and children were at home, by a coward hiding in the grass across the street
  • the very definition of citizenship is predicated on the right to vote
  • real danger to the sanctity of the vote lies in suppression
  • to suppress the vote is to make a mockery of democracy
  • many who are most vocal in championing a free open and dynamic economy are the same political factions that suppress these principles when it comes to the currency of ideas
  • gerrymandering — coined in 1812 when an MA governor Elbridge Gerry went to such egregious lengths to redraw the state senate districts in his partys favor that one district took on the shape of a salamander
  • our voting participation is far below the levels of a healthy democracy
  • one of our most important founding ideals was to confer legal protection on those unafraid to buck popular opinion sentiment with contrarian voices
  • dissent is doubly necessary to resitst a slide into greater autocracy
  • most people, in most times, tend to follow the herd
  • one the lessons of the red scare is that the long arc of history often validates the dissenters
  • dissent is most controversial during war time because it is cast as unpatriotic and dangerous to the national cause
  • but that is what precisely the time when a democracy should be asking itself difficult and uncomfortable questions
  • Jeannette Rankin Bridade — first woman ever elected to congress, was a pacifist, sole vote against WWII
  • 1967 — MLK gave speech called Beyond Vietnam, A Time To Break Silence
  • talked about money going for bombs instead of to the needy
  • “I figure I was politically unwise but morally wise … i think i have a role to play which may be unpopular”
  • Riverside Church Speech captures both the complexities of the times and of a man who was one of the great dissenters in american history
  • greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice”
  • our democratic machinery provides fertile soil where seeds of change can grow
  • Snowden — messy, controversial, consequential
  • Eisenhower — “may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion”
  • 1896 — Plessy v. Ferguson — lone dissenter was John Marshall Harlan — “Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens”
  • Abrams vs. US in 1919 — group of russian immigrants who had distributed pamphlets advocating against the war effort
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes offerred disset, a passionate plea for the importance of dissent and free expression
  • he had changed his mind, was challnenged in a marketplace of ideas by others and he came to his dissent
  • america works best when new thoughts can emerge to compete, and thrive, in a marketplace of ideas
  • George Orwell understood that government that is beyond the reach of accountability has little incentive to tell the truth
  • role of the press is to ask hard questions and refuse to be deterred even when someone powerful claims nothing to see here
  • founders understood that long term accountability is more important than short term stability
  • because of the press, powerful institutions were held accountable for their actions
  • Nixon was the inflection point in the history of a free press in the US
  • press strategy was put together by ROger Ailes
  • Nixon was the first to attack the press on a national level and win the presidency
  • 1987 — Reagan the FCC abolished the fairness doctrine, which had stipulated equal airtime for differing points of view — lead to Limbaugh, and others, Fox news, opinion rather than news
  • political leaders and activists who assiduously stoke these fears are doing so cynically
  • rally their base, distract voters
  • constitutional role of the press often puts them in an adversarial position to the government
  • 9/11 — not enough skepticism in the press at the time about going to war
  • almost all of the press accepted the selling if the war around WMD’s
  • press didn’t do enough to try and explain the differences, links to iraq, al queda
  • war destabilized a region that was already unstable
  • press played a part in turning a blind eye to the government policies that were responsible for the tragedy
  • business models that had sustained journalism — began to crack under the stress of new tech
  • currently, we have more people talking about news and less original reporting
  • decimation that has come to local newspapers
  • public meetings are almost happening behind closed doors
  • founders conceived the first amendment as a check on tyranny
  • truth and justice must win out
  • role of a trained journalist is to get as close to the truth as is humanly possible
  • without a vibrant, fearless free press, our great american experiment may fail
  • e pluribus unum — from many, one. from many states, were are one nation, and from many peoples we should be one society
  • building tolerance is the destination of inclusion
  • for most of my life, LGBTQ community was never discussed in “polite” company
  • AIDS — effort among journalists from all walks to broaden the story, Ryan White
  • Rather went from ignorance to tolerance to inclusion
  • worry that for all the progress we have made, we are stuck in the purgatory of tolerance
  • Republican party has become whiter and more conservative, and democrats have become more diverse and progressive
  • long shadow of slavery, segregation, and racism still looms over this nation
  • Detroit public schools almost entirely black, and schools in surrounding suburbs are overwhelmingly white
  • Miliken v Bradley, court ruled that a metropolis could in essence become segregated along district lines, just not within those districts
  • real racial divisions, lines of exclusion, between suburbs and cities
  • Women’s Rights Project, founded by RBG in the early 70's
  • she decided to join ACLU and use the legal system to tackle the injustices facing women in american society
  • inclusion, not assimilation should be the key concept in seeking a more perfect national union
  • we are stronger as a mosaic than a melting pot — inclusion is in our cultural DNA
  • progress is possible but it requires perseverance, hard work and a commitment to the respect the dignity of all who call america home
  • when his family gave needy kids gifts at christmas, his mom said “we do not feel sorry for them, we understand how they feel”
  • empathy builds community, communities strengthen a country and it’s resolve and will to fight back
  • 1948 — Truman would desegregate the armed forces
  • empathetic legislation — social security, Works progress administration, public works projects, tennessee valley authority, SEC, Fail Labor Standards Act
  • JFK’s New Frontier, LBJ’s Great Society, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, mostly bipartisan support
  • spirit of empathy with which they were created has been lost
  • try to walk in the shoes of others
  • we live in pockets that insulate us from others
  • empathy is a potent force for political and social change
  • Buffet has an experiment called the “ovarian lottery” which he uses from time to time
  • most of the world still lived under the remnants of the feudal systems — US offered a destiny of ones own making
  • united citizenry can be quilted together from so many different cultural fabrics
  • anybody from anywhere can be american
  • an eternal battle between our demons and angels for the soul of the united states
  • catholics from germany and ireland sparked a fierce backlash and the rise of the american party, Know Nothing party
  • 1882 — congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred chinese laborers form entering the US
  • massive xenophobia at the time of WWII
  • more than 40 percent of the union soldiers in the civil war who were born overseas or had a parent who was an immigrant
  • 1965 — LBJ signed a new law which eliminated immigration quotas based on race, ethnicity, and nation of origin — now based mainly on having a relative who was a US citizen or legal resident and working in a profession with specialized skills
  • “our beautiful america was built by a nation of strangers”
  • by 2055 the US will not have a single racial or ethnic minority
  • the same argument that america will no longer be america has always been wrong
  • Reagan — oversaw passage of a bill that allowed millions of people living in this country without documentation to come out of the shadows
  • we must find a way to defeat the forces of intolerance
  • science is about a method of understanding our world through observation, experimentation, and analysis
  • allowing facts to win out over prejudice
  • what are we if not a great experiment?
  • many of the men who signed the declaration had a profound interest in science
  • great innovators of history believed in the benefits of testing preconceived notions through experimentation
  • spirit of ingenuity — mistake to think that the antiscoience currents we face today are entirely new
  • political divide, general loss of faith in experts and authority, suspicion of corporations and some self inflicted wounds there
  • press has often failed with overhyped medical breakthroughs, focused on gee wiz angles
  • falling into false equivalence
  • reporters often oversimplify, distort and sometimes seem bent on proving a preconceived angle
  • the public is hungry for better science reporting
  • too many of our young students are getting turned off and thinking, like i did, that somehow science is not for them
  • children needs to head out into the night and look up at the moon and stars
  • willingness to reevaluate our assumptions in the face of data to better see, understand, and improve our world
  • libraries represent civic institutions that welcome anyone who wishes to become a more informed and independent citizen
  • by reading books, we can continually challenge our own biases and learn beyond our level of formal education
  • words are interpreted by imperfect men and women, the history of this republic is full of countless examples of those in power failing to live up to the spirit of all men are created equal
  • UVA library — Jefferson’s creation “temple of learning”
  • library of congress founded in 1800 founded as a reference resource for congress
  • 1870 — congress stipulated the library must receive two copies of every book, map and photograph or other such work that was submitted for copyright in the US — largest library in the world
  • books and literacy are central to Fredrick Douglas’ biography and story
  • democracy requires open access to ideas
  • struggle and learn, question our own suppositions and biases, to pen ourselves as citizens and a nation to a world of books and thought
  • we have political leaders openly scornful of intellectualism and scholarship
  • language of demagoguery is a betrayal of our traditions
  • founding fathers were all deep readers, writers and thinkers
  • Adams wrote that a republic is a government of laws and not of men
  • american art had a sense of cultural inferiority from the beginning, in a way
  • understanding art was beyond Rather’s capabilities, he believed
  • internalized the cultural insecurity’s of the US
  • inferiority complex when it came to assessing our own cultural value
  • for him, art felt elitist and far removed from our daily lives, usually blue collar
  • art is about engaging in a candid dialogue with yourself
  • great american story is sung, danced, dramatized, turned into verse
  • painted, sculpted, written and filmed
  • artists are truth tellers, and our art has been boisterous and courageous and gloriously distinct
  • euphoria, shame, outrage
  • our artist community represents the US in all its multiple wonders
  • founding fathers understood that free expression was central to democracy
  • Ai Weiwei — censorship system relies on robbing a person of the self perception that one needs in order to maintain an independent existance
  • in the US, our definition of art and who is an artist must be as varied as our country
  • Hamilton — spirit of innovation and experimentation in art echoes the narrative of the founding of our nation
  • 1962 Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, dangers of DDT, unintended havoc on the health of the a wide range of animals, including humans
  • EPA established in 1970 with Nixon, Earth Day
  • Yellowstone founded in 1872, Yosemite was added in 1890]
  • used to be that nature wasn’t something you drove to,, planned on seeing, or for which you bought a fancy outdoor wardrobe
  • today most of us encounter few animals and plants in our daily lives
  • in the US, 80 percent of us can’t see the Milky Say from our homes
  • cap and trade had been the brainchild of republicans
  • EPA was founded and tackled ozone, acid rain, strengthening clean water and air, happened under republican administrations
  • nature has the power to inspire ones mind and move one’s soul like great music or poetry
  • “under God” was not added to the pledge until the cold war
  • insidious forces overtly and covertly undermining our public schools
  • public education must be open to all, free of charge and of the highest quality
  • we now see rising tuitions at colleges
  • in finland, kids spend less time in class, lots of freedom, very little homework — students regularly score among the highest in the world on test scores
  • Singapore, schools are strict and rigid, but they have a rigorous commitment from their national governments to make quality schools, schoolteachers are held in high esteem in both countries
  • until relatively recently our school system was the envy of the world
  • US has historically been a leader in public education at the college and university level
  • in 1862 — Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, land grant college system where states were given federal land to either use or sell — lead to UC, OSU, Nebraska, others
  • local and state control of schools and state colleges has always been a pillar of our system — hyper partisanship of our nation is trickling into classrooms
  • education is not about planting a seed but also about nurturing a productive, meaningful and happy life
  • WWII — sense of service that permeated all of society, even down to young boys like Rather
  • service can come in many forms
  • when politicians call our government workers lazy or ineffectual, it is often for cynical political gain
  • service tends to humanize you — we must consider it a necessity
  • we either choose to be a part of the community that stretches beyond ourselves, our material needs, and our creature comforts, or we do not
  • america was built and conceded by risk takers and explorers — land of movement, new thoughts, unbridled audactiy
  • been quick to adapt to change
  • “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not be cause they are easy but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win” — JFK
  • foreign forward in the face of unlikely disappointment, even death (audacity)
  • our national will has changed — we seem to find the money for tax cuts for the wealthy and foreign wars, but not enough for the exploration of space
  • JFK understood that there is something in the human character that can rally to big causes
  • a nation is strengthened when it can focus on a purpose
  • in the 20th century alone, an estimated 300M people had died of smallpox and we got rid of it
  • epidemiologist from OH, D.A. Henderson — lead the world in eradicating smallpox in 1980 — remains the only disease to have fully been defeated in the history of the planet
  • ability to dream big, to work with others, and to see the destiny of the US as improving the lives of those beyond our borders
  • our planet and our national prosperity are already suffering from the decline in our leadership
  • Watergate — checks and balances remained resilient — we are a nation of laws not of men
  • our greatest leaders have been men and women of prudence, wisdom, composure
  • favorite words is “steady”
  • Roosevelt’s steadiness gave the nation confidence it needed to overcome the twin challenges of economic hardship and war
  • founders built a steady government with checks and balances on power to protect against malignant recklessness
  • Korean War was the start of a significant change in the way the country felt about itself
  • we have never fully regained the confidence we felt at the end of WWII, or the unity
  • this stability of our system of government has only intermittently prevented progress
  • recent years, worried about the increasingly that the mechanics of our government may be coming under a debilitating strain
  • our history — evidence of american greatness, but also the need for humility
  • courage is being afraid, but going on anyhow
  • life is about creating order out of chaos
  • MLK “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice”
  • summon the highest ideals of citizenship and patriotism and claim them as our birthright
  • reach down deep into the soul of this nation and hold on to the central principles that have made us great
  • democracy is an action more than a belief
  • the peoples voice, your voice, must be heard for it to have an effect
  • will instability overwhelm all that we have established? or will we unite enough to tackle our challenge?
  • optimism, bolstered by hard work perseverance, commitment by each of us to improve the well being of our communities
  • power of the vote must be paramount
  • vote, get others to do so
  • chasm over race and citizenship is inescapable in american history, and it casts a shadow over almost every conceivable aspect of our national story
  • civics can teach our children — tells them that this nation belongs to them, all of them
  • civics is about action, about dealing with and trying to improve the present
  • recommitment to citizenship
  • compact with each other to work for the wellbeing of al, engage with our civic institutions, support our schools, the democratic process, health of the environment
  • citizenship transcends geography, gender, class, race, religion, sexual orientation
  • citizenship cannot be passive
  • if we believe our vision for what our country is is worth fighting for then we should fight for it — this is our right and duty as citizens
  • Emerson — “the power of individual action in service of helping others and promoting truth” sustained action
  • commitment to each other and to fixing problems
  • seeking solutions and not praise, progress and not personal aggrandizement, doing what is right for the sake of right
  • we have within ourselves the power to be heroic in service to our country — and in doing so we will help answer the question of what unites us

I love books, I have a ton of them, and I take notes on all of them. I wanted to share all that I have learned and will continue to learn. I hope you enjoy.