Stannard: Where do we go from here?

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Last week most Americans celebrated their first mask-wearing, socially distanced, pandemic, COVID-19 Fourth of July. No town organized fireworks or festivities. No large gatherings. Not like it was last year, that's for sure. But did the coronavirus keep us from having fun?

If you were born and raised in Vermont you have experienced adversity and you pretty much know how to deal with it. We've been making silk purses out of sow's ears since the first settlers landed here a couple of hundred years ago. For the first time in most folk's memory we're confronted with a highly contagious, nasty virus that kills a small percentage of those who get it. A small percentage of a large number of people is still a lot of people who die. In spite of the virus, the resulting economic crash and race relations coming to yet another head, we still found a way to have a good time on our nation's birthday.

Most of our family began the holiday by watching the new Disney recording of "Hamilton." What a great performance. The only regret was that we've yet to see it live. Those who were alive back then had plenty of adversity in their lives. They, too, had diseases to deal with, but they also had feuding rival "nations" within a soon to be nation. There were heated disagreements; some that were resolved by gunplay via a duel where each participant walks 10 paces or roughly 30 feet, turns and fires upon the other. Guns never solve any problem and it was a poor way to solve the problems of the past. Just ask Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

The founders of what was to become America were extremely bright men (no women were allowed to participate. Oh, think of what might have been had women been allowed to help write the Constitution) who were passionate in their beliefs; beliefs that often conflicted with the strongly held beliefs of others. It is no wonder that forming a new nation would be a difficult task. In Colin Woodard's book "American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America," he lays out what America looked like before it became a "unified" country. The book was written a decade ago and is as relevant today as it was when it was written. According to Woodard, America has never been unified, but came together in an act of convenience: to be rid of the tyrannical rule of England.

These days we are not subjected to the tyrannical rule of any foreign nation. Through grit, hard work and determination America was looked upon as the leading nation on the planet. Now, 244 years later, some are trying to force us back into a culture war instead of focusing on what unites us. Today, many in the South still insist on flying the flag of those who were traitors of America. The entitled aristocrats still feel entitled. The poor descendants of both Black and some white slaves are still poor.

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Maybe it was the threat of oppression from a foreign country that brought and kept us together. We've had many wars since the country's inception that were designed to keep us united, but somehow wars don't even work anymore. We've been in Afghanistan for a decade and a half and most Americans don't even know we're there.

One might have thought that a war waged on a pandemic would've been a great catalyst for re-uniting Americans, but that, too, has seemed to fail. Instead of all Americans coming together to support each other and fight off a pandemic, what have we done? We have politicized the wearing of a protective mask and keeping a distance of at least six feet between us. This is what America has become, a nation of snowflakes? A nation where many are more concerned with their vanity than they are with their neighbor's health. Was the turning point the "ME" generation or have we always been this way? Have we always been more concerned about ourselves and our perceived freedom to do whatever it is we want to do even if that means we harm others, or is this a new phenomenon?

Whatever it is, don't you think that after 244 years that we could find a way to go back to the day when people were confronted with problems way more serious than those you and I face today and still managed to come together? Compared to those who founded this great nation our problems seem trite, but to us they are not trite, they are of paramount importance. Half of the people feel it's their right to go to a bar without a mask and place others at risk, while the other half thinks it's prudent to protect not only themselves, but others.

Have we lost our way or lost our minds, or maybe both? History makes it clear where we've been. The actions we take today will determine where we go from here. It's an easier decision than deciding to take on England 244 years ago, don't you think?

Bob Stannard writes a regular column for the Manchester Journal.


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