John Andrist: In Praise of a Quest for the Middle

E pluribus unum.

I’m not a scholar, but I think those are Latin words that translates pretty closely to “One out of many”.

At one time it was our national motto, dating back to the constitution when the 13 colonies formed one government out of many.

It’s still on the Great Seal, and at one time appeared on all our coins and currencies, at least until 1956 when Congress changed our motto to “In God We Trust”.

Frankly, I think we should go back to the original.

The Seal and E pluribus unum were selected by a committee of the big shots — guys like Tom Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and John Adams.

What led me into this discussion was pondering whether or not we really, deeply feel we are one in these divisive times, when it seems everyone is suppose to choose sides, left or right, and play the tug-of-war game that dominates our Congress.

More than anything else I long for that sense of oneness, the feeling that being on the same page transcends all the differences that separate us.

I come pretty close to wanting to join the hate Trump forces. He’s really pretty hard for me to take. And yet there are reasons that make me feel happy he is there, as an alternative to Hillary. At the same time I am scared to death of what he will next do or say.

…we need a larger body of folks who are less rigid on the right and left to focus on the things that can bring us closer together.

Perhaps I have political schizophrenia. Seemingly, we all do.

So I’ve been thinking about what some of the factors are that divide us, making us rightists or leftists, traditionalists or progressives.

When we began this great American experiment we wanted government to just govern .  .  . run the place. For whatever reason people crossed the ocean to come here. But it wasn’t for wanting to be governed.

It was more about escaping, or pursuing dreams, or one of any number of things we can define as some kind of hunger.

But Adam and Eve being what they are, bad things and bad people got into our way. Freedom couldn’t be free, we discovered.

So governing evolved to include a mission of protection — law enforcement, jails, banks, even walls and fences.

Then it expanded into safe drinking water, disease protection, speed limits, food safety.

I suspect Tom Jefferson never thought about licensing, land use planning, and permits for just about anything we want to do. His writings suggest he was focussed strictly on freedoms.

Trouble is, just about every protection replaces some freedom. So today there is this great struggle of determining how much freedom and how much protection we want in our lives.

Governor Burgum had it on his mind when he vetoed the bill requiring carbon monoxide detectors.

Minnesota just stepped back a bit from a law requiring new twin homes to have sprinkler systems.

Sprinklers add a lot of money to the cost, so contractors quit building twin homes in places like Moorhead, choosing instead to build in Fargo to escape the big brother requirement across the river. So they changed the law, freedom of choice over protection.

The right hate regulation; the left think it is necessary. But the issue is really protection vs. freedom.

People who have something tend to be more focussed on protecting it — freedom. Those who have little have a greater sense of need for protection — food and safety.

Both are basic needs for our existence and our feeling of well-being.

Harmonizing these basic instincts is needed to bring us together.

All of which is another way of saying we need a larger body of folks who are less rigid on the right and left to focus on the things that can bring us closer together.

There are any number of virtues that can help us: Love, respect, civility, compromise.

If a man and a woman or any two persons with so many essential differences can find a way to transcend those things that divide them and build long, happy lives, there must be a way in the corporate sense to do it.

The key is to understand we need this to happen, not for the benefit of others, but for ourselves.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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