Column: Time for reconciliation

By Se Young Lee

As I sat in a courtroom at the Everett MicKinley Dirksen Building, the home of the United States District Court in Chicago, waiting to be sworn in to become a U.S. citizen on Oct. 13, I made sure to look around and take everything in.

The benches were filled with people of all colors, cultures, religions and creeds. To my left sat an elderly Chinese woman who silently clutched to her wooden cane in anticipation, and to my right was a graying Latino gentleman who battled through the grammatical kinks of English to chat up a young Polish woman with blond hair and blue eyes. Behind me was a middle aged black woman talking, with the standard Chicago accent, about how she waited for three years to get her citizenship.

For all the assertions about the homogeneity of the American populace, the fact remains that this nation is one comprised of immigrants. People have come from all parts of the world to, rightly or wrongly, find a better life and to prosper in the promises of liberty, freedom and ingenuity that the fabled American Dream offered.

By no means is this nation perfect. For all the gilded glorifications about the past and present, what America is and what America was, the fact is that 45 million Americans were uninsured as of 2003. Racism continues to persist, although not through the brazen displays of burning crosses and lynchings. Thousands of Chinese migrant workers died connecting one end of this nation to the other with railroads. And millions of American Indians perished because of greed and self-righteous zealots who declared war against infidels in the name of God.

But history has also shown that this nation can truly be great. A United States of America emerged during the world’s darkest hours of humankind and struck at the heart of demagogues and heinous rhetoric that prophesized murder of an entire race. A United States of America rose from the abyss of immorality to free a race from the suffocating grips of bondage. And a United States of America stood tall against the anachronistic menace of hatred and false gospels of deceit when the two towers fell. This nation’s full potential, when its people are united under a common goal, is immense.

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Yet, in the recent years, this nation’s politicians, talking heads and community leaders have chosen instead to tear this nation apart. What should be a reasoned, pragmatic discussion on important issues for the nation’s safety and prosperity has instead devolved into a demonizing shouting match of extremist rhetoric that accomplishes nothing but to drive the growing schisms within society closer to the heart. National elections have devolved into calculating majorities in Congress and electoral votes.

We have also seen the rise of the Ann Coulters, the Michael Moores and the Pat Robertsons. They spew half-truths and deliberately misinform to trick others. They have replaced compromise, restraint and civility with self-righteous rants, theatrics and crude talking points that obliterate all subtleties, nuances and complexities of the world we must navigate through. Their ignorant and childish rhetoric and smug images appear on televisions, newspapers and bookshelves and suffocate intelligent, constructive debate.

These demagogues and rabble rousers are the true enemies of this republic and the biggest obstacles to a truly open and free society. They pollute our public discourse with idiocy and eliminate the middle ground that the U.S. must reach. Politics is never a zero sum game, and the role of government in a democratic society is to protect all of its people’s rights and liberties and give all people equal chance to succeed. It is too important and delicate a tool to be allowed to degenerate into a weapon that will create an irreparable split in society.

This nation has accomplished too much for it to be allowed to be swayed by egomaniacs, fanatics and equivocators. It is time for the American people to take their country back, and turn to those who will work to unite this nation.

Se Young Lee is a junior in communications. He is the outgoing Opinions Editor. He wishes all of you a happy festivus.