As President Abraham Lincoln said at the conclusion of his first inaugural address, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Yesterday’s tragic events in El Paso were immediately preceded by a hate-filled screed apparently released by the young man who would shortly kill 20 children, women and men while wounding dozens more, detailing a plan to separate America into territories by race and seeking to get rid of immigrants.
We speak of ourselves as a nation of immigrants, and many of our ancestors came to the United States at a time when everyone was welcomed, there were no policies of preference or quotas. The world and our country look very different now. What is needed today is a reasoned debate that recognizes the very real threats that drive families and individuals to undertake a treacherous path to our borders in what they see as their last, best hope, and a conversation that also recognizes the responsibility we have to citizens already present in our country and their economic well-being and health. Above all, we need to be able to talk about these needs and perspectives in terms of compassion, of regard for due process, of hope for the America we wish for future generations. We need to recognize that we are wrestling with moral questions, as well as legal issues.
The issues are complex, and they are not going to be made any easier by vilifying one side or the other, or by kicking the can down the road. If we really want to say “no more” to the horror experienced in El Paso, we must be willing to listen and to learn. We must reach past the easy labels and facile answers to become educated on these issues, so that as informed Americans we hold our government accountable to formulate policies that represent the best of our history and the sum of our dreams. It will not be easy, but we cannot continue to simply shake our heads at terror on our borders, or the essence of the country we seek to protect will already be lost.