Tuesday, July 14, 2020

#196 / What's Our Motto?

E pluribus unum appears on our dollar bill - and in some other places, too. In 1956, it became the official "motto" of the United States of America: "Out of many, one."

In a column published in the June 10, 2020, edition of The New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman suggests that we should reconsider our motto. Friedman is partial to the following formulation: 

Out Of Many, We

While I am a big fan of "we," which recognizes that we are not just a collection of individuals, but are "in this life together," I worry that Friedman may be a bit off target in this suggestion. Certainly, the "Out of many, we" idea is a lot better than, "Out of many ME," which Friedman suggests is the motto that would be preferred by our current president and his acolytes.

I am not for that motto, for sure! Saying, "WE" does celebrate our connection, in one way, suggesting that the nation is something more than a mere collection of individual persons. I do think that is an important point to stress.

However, "we" can also be read in a way that emphasizes differences and disconnection. And that is actually Friedman's point, the way I read him. Here is how he puts it near the end of his column: "'Out of many, we' summons us all to a deeper commitment to pluralism," recognizing the equality of all our differences. As Friedman sees it, we aren't, really, "one" nation, but we are a lot of different communities that all happen to live in the same place, governed by the same government. What our "motto" should do, as Friedman presents his case, is to build everyone's respect for each different community.

Again, who can disagree that we need to celebrate our diversity, which is such a strength? But do we really want to suggest that the nation is just a collection of diverse "communities," which need to respect each other, but actually have no underlying unity?

I am nervous about that. That is not the way I see the United States of America. For my part, I favor using our existing "motto" as a test of what we must do, and what we must achieve in fact. Celebrating that we are truly "many," and diverse, we must discover that we are not only a set of diverse communities, each deserving of separate respect, but that, in fact, out of our many communities we will insist that we are truly "one." 

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