Through human history tribes and nations of Us have battled tribes and nations of Other.
Nations and governments evolved with narrow definitions of Us. Each their own. Each with their own internal power dynamics. Us and Other ever present – and Other most always treated unequally among Us.
And then the United States of America happened. We created a country based on notions of equality. The greatest form of government ever established. More Us, less Other. Each of us different in detail, but the same in foundation. Aspirational equality. American exceptionalism. Americanism.
But exceptional doesn’t mean perfect. Other remained. And remained oppressed. No right to vote. No right to own land… All men may have been created equal, but they were not yet treated as such. And the oppressed used their voice and asserted their equality. And we evolved through great conflict. And they could, and we could, because America. Because Americanism.
And yet, still, Other remains.
The events of January 6 deeply disturbed me. Not only in the details of the day, but also that they were a reflection of our society. That we are all complicit. That this is Our problem.
Partisanship and antipathy in our politics is weakening Us. The tribalism supporting it reflects a selective narrowing of our notions of Us. Each tribe seems to believe they are protecting their true America. But in their fierce and determined protection of their tribe they seem to be losing their Americanism.
America has never been about narrowing our notion of Us. It has always been about broadening it – welcoming folks to come here to live their American Dream. Here, ALL of us are created equal. Our community and our governing principles and laws are rooted in that equality and since our founding we have substantially expanded access to that equality.
Our past is our past. America has not gotten here without sin. Us and Other have existed for always, and continue to exist here today. But we have made profound and remarkable strides in advancing the human condition. The freedoms we enjoy and the opportunities presented to us exceed those of any time in history. American exceptionalism indeed.
Yet unequal treatment remains. America has always represented hope, the power of hard work and determination, and freedom. And it does still today. But our history is defined by moments of discomfort. Times when ideological chasms threaten to swallow us. Moments when foreign conflict dominates. Moments where economic power overwhelms moral authority. It is in these times of honest and desperate expression that We learn about who We are, and that the Other among Us are Us.
These are the moments that make us stronger.
As upsetting as 1/6/21 was, I choose my optimistic lenses as I consider it. Folks across a broad political spectrum denounced that behavior. They know it to have been un-American.
I know I personalized it: that was an attack on MY Capitol. I was angry. And I was sad.
But I hope that these last weeks of a profoundly volatile tenure crystallize our communal focus on what truly makes us Us. We are not race. We are not income. We are not gender or religion or age or… At our core, what makes us Us is that we are Americans.
We are exceptional and we are nowhere near good enough. We are Americans. We don’t quit. We know good is the enemy of great. We know we the people wield great power and we know we have freedoms. We protect our allies and we stand strong against our enemies. We are Americans.
We are also compassionate. And we believe in the strength of community. We are Americans and we know our strength is Us. We know we are exceptional and we know we are nowhere near good enough.
Former U.K. prime minister David Cameron said that “tribalism is the evil twin of community.” Q and Antifa are tribes – they can’t strengthen our community.
I hope that 1/6 helps us all to remember and to examine our true commonality. That we can reframe our sense of self and recommit to our Americanism. That we can own our exceptionalism, and that we know we are nowhere good enough but we can work tirelessly to get better.
Blair Williams is the president of Milwaukee-based WiRED Properties.