It has become almost trite to refer to the year just concluded as difficult, divisive and, due to the pandemic, undeniably deadly. There is a yearning across our land for a path forward toward healing and renewal. Yet, it appears that this path is much like the road “less traveled by” in Robert Frost’s famous poem; it appeals to many, but most travelers are inclined to take the more popular path, which in this day seems to be a path of conflict and discord. I would suggest that the work of global human rights can help us to find and choose to walk the noble, unifying road of respect and unity.
My work fighting for human rights across the globe has given me a powerful awareness of the underlying strength of our system of constitutional democracy and rule of law in the United States. In 2020, we were sorrowfully reminded of the terrible ways in which we have fallen short of our high ideals, particularly in matters of racial justice and equality. But for all our shortcomings, the vision of America as a shining city on a hill continues to resonate not only for Americans but also for the many drawn to our nation in hopes of achieving their own dreams. Even more remarkable, this vision remains a beacon for those in far flung places from Hong Kong to Venezuela who are bravely fighting to defend their own fundamental rights. They draw both inspiration and courage from the United States.
There is a yearning across our land for a path forward toward healing and renewal.
Their belief in what America aspires to be should encourage and, perhaps in some instances, shame us into more fully living up to our national creed eloquently expressed in the Declaration of Independence but never fully realized. My late father, Congressman Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in the Congress, used to refer to this as the long story of closing “America’s hypocrisy gap.” In 2021, we must resolve to do better at closing this gap at home so we will be worthy of the human rights leadership that we have long exercised around the world.
The past year has surely highlighted many ways in which we are divided but, despite the differing political paths that we may take, it is good to remember that every fork in the road is also a place where paths converge. Though politics and pandemics may separate us, we can still come together around our love of country and our dedication to universal human rights.
Katrina Lantos Swett is the president of the Lantos Foundation. She is also an American educator and the former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom from 2012 to 2013, and then again from 2014 to 2015.