What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism
For many of us, the 2016 election was a poisonous time in American political history. The election season seemed to last forever, the majority of candidates were lackluster, and the rhetoric in the country devolved to nothing more than playground taunts. What Unites Us is the antidote to that poison. Dan Rather, with long-time friend and collaborator Elliot Kirschner, has written a collection of essays so heartfelt, so honest, so deeply, well, patriotic, that you hope—when reading them—that every person in the country would take the time to sit down with this book and remember what has always made America great.
Split into five sections—Freedom, Community, Exploration, Responsibility, Character—the book includes 15 essays, three each under the aforementioned section headings. Each essay is less than 20 pages and features Rather’s observations on the world as we know it today but also on how we got to this point. When he speaks of growing up poor in Texas and his family’s charity towards neighbors with even less than themselves, it is easy to see why Rather has been such a trusted voice for so long. His words are clear, moving, and reflective. He never suggests his family was in any way morally better than those with less, but instead he focuses on the idea that if one is able to help their fellow man, then they should. This is a controlling principle in many essays of the book and clearly a part of what Rather believes it means to be patriotic.
The thing that kept coming to me as I read this book was how important it is for adults to reflect on why we hold the beliefs we do. How did we come to see ourselves as Republicans or Democrats? How did we decide who to value and who not to? Where did we learn to love, or to hate? Rather explores all of these questions in his own life in What Unites Us. He speaks of his own journey from “ignorance to tolerance to inclusion” and asserts that “empathy is not only a personal feeling; it is a potent force for political and social change.” It is that truth, that driving force of empathy, that permeates this book and makes it worth reading, giving as a gift, teaching, sharing, and then trying to put into action.
Dan Rather believes we can all be better. So, after reading What Unites Us, I plan to try.