How National Unity Is Forged in Unexpected Places

“The elusive unity so needed to heal the nation was recently found in a most unexpected place—heroism.”

As the country struggles to find points of unity during this election year, politicians are offering all sorts of economic policies to bring together a fractured nation. They say jobs, wages and trade will make America prosperous and united again. However, the means to achieve this goal—whether it be by the government or the market—only serves to be more divisive and leads to ever more bitter debates.

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The elusive unity so needed to heal the nation was recently found in a most unexpected place—heroism. In the wake of the police shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, there has been an outpouring of grief and support from citizens and fellow police officers. Whole communities have come together—young and old, black and white—to mourn the loss of heroes who died to protect them and to grieve for the state of the nation.

Videos of the funeral ceremonies are exceptionally moving and symbolic. Police from all over the country and even Canada came to salute their fallen comrades. The highways along the path of the funeral cortege were filled with tearful citizens holding flags to pay their last respects. The graveside services featured gun salutes, mournful bagpipe dirges and flag-folding troopers.

Ironically, it is in tragedy that Americans have found unity. It is selfless service, not self-interest that deeply moves the American soul. People cannot help but be impressed by the generosity of those heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in their service to nation and community. The uniform, whether military or police, testifies that there exist values that are greater than life itself and for which one must be willing to die.

The attitude of heroes runs so contrary to a party culture that abhors risk and pain and adores pleasure, sensations, and festivities. Everything conspires against this heroism that asks for everything from those who it visits.

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And yet heroism attracts powerfully, irresistibly, perhaps because it speaks to something deep inside the soul where vague longings for a code of honor still linger. Maybe it appeals to that which is most noble by inspiring people to put the use of force at the service of the good and against the deeds of the wicked. It forces people to examine their consciences and consider stepping up to the plate of suffering and sacrifice for something greater than self.

Curiously, the Dallas Police Department has reported a huge surge in job applications in the days after the July 7 shooting that killed five officers. Before the tragic event, the department faced recruiting difficulties. They even had to cancel classes at their police academy due to lack of students. Now their offices are flooded with a 344 percent increase in the number of applicants!

To serve Dallas, these new recruits will forego higher pay, career opportunities, and less risk found in police departments in richer Texas suburbs. Like those who responded to the call of 9/11 by flooding the military with applications, it is inspiring to see that when Dallas was in trouble, these recruits also rose to the occasion.

In tragedy, the nation is unified. Of course, no one can wish for tragedy as a means for securing national unity. However, the events in Dallas and Baton Rouge do call into question some of the basic premises that dominate in postmodern society and present political discourse.

Subscription8One of those premises is that life only exists to be enjoyed. As a result, our every material comfort must be maximized and every physical suffering minimized. There is nothing greater than self to be considered. To use the poignant words of Irving Kristol, modernity proposes a society with “no high nobility of purpose, no selfless devotion to transcendental ends, no awe-inspiring heroism.”

Perhaps it is the case to question this bland secular society officially stripped of its spiritual elements that inspires and unifies no one. With each person thinking only of self, it leads to the shattering of the nation. It leads to elections in which candidates bicker over benefits and economic policies.

This election should be focused on those principles and values what will unify America under God. It is instead focused on that which is tearing America apart.

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