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Sprinkle: Time to remember what unites us as a nation

It’s Christmas. It’s time to take a break from the political wrangling that threatens to tear us apart and acknowledge the warp and weft of the fabric that binds us together as a nation. For the moment, we are divided — a country of polarities; but we are one, nonetheless. We need to reflect on some of those ideals that unite us, the reason we have inscribed on our coinage since 1795, e pluribus unum—“out of many, one.”

One example from U.S. history: On Jan. 6, 1941, with World War II already in progress in a substantial part of the world, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the members of the Seventy-Seventh Congress of the United States. Although Roosevelt had no foreknowledge of the pending attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 of that same year, he was clearly preparing the nation for war. In that address, he set out what he called “essential human freedoms,” commonly known as the “Four Freedoms.”

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Freedom of Speech and Expression. It’s the freedom that allows us to express our own thoughts and opinions and to challenge those with whom we differ. It’s the freedom that allows our media and every person to speak freely, irrespective of the verbal ferocity with which our words may be greeted. It’s the freedom that infuriates some of us when we witness those who kneel at the playing of our national anthem or burn our American Flag, but it’s also the freedom that allows us to chastise verbally those individuals and turn our backs to them.

Freedom of Religion. Or as stated directly by Roosevelt, “freedom of every person to worship God in his own way.” It’s the freedom to express our religious beliefs freely and openly without fear of persecution (or prosecution). It’s the freedom to pray, or not to pray, wherever or whenever we choose. It’s the freedom to know there is safety in all houses of worship.

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Freedom from Want. Almost 79 years following Roosevelt’s address, this may well be the freedom that is least understood today. The word, “want,” as used by Roosevelt did not mean, “I want a Ferrari.” Roosevelt defined “want” as “a healthy peacetime life.” In other words, our nation should be a place where every person should have the means to work, to acquire, and to be in possession of the basic necessities of life.

Freedom from Fear. The looming war was certainly on Roosevelt’s mind when he included this freedom. All of us, Democrat and Republican, want a safe homeland, a land where we can put our children to bed and know they will sleep safely through the night.

Within the boundaries of these Four Freedoms, we can coalesce as a nation because we are one as we agree that these “essential human freedoms” are the ideals, the goals that we set for our country.

But although we may agree on the desired destination, the path to the goal is sometimes rocky and fraught with highly contested differences of opinion. And as it is today, so it was from the beginning.

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Thelma Raker Coffone recounts the early years of the new country wherein, “name calling in the Congressional chambers was commonplace.” In 1798, for example, Roger Griswold, a Federalist from Connecticut, and Matthew Lyon, a Vermont Democratic-Republican, got into an argument. Lyon spit a stream of tobacco juice in Griswold’s face and, according to Coffone, “there was no stopping the ensuing melee.” Coffone continues: “A few weeks later, Griswold attacked Lyon on the Senate floor with a cane and then Lyon went after him with a pair of fire tongs.”

So much for the gentlemanly, “my friend on the other side of the aisle.”

The point is that politicians and their constituents squabble, and the country manages to survive, most likely because when our backs are really against the wall, pity the foe who tries to step between us.

So, to the left, to the right, and to those caught in the middle of the “fighting” factions who wish all of us would give it a rest, I send my best wishes for all of the blessings of Christmas and the new year and my promise to utter not another political word. Until next year.

M.K. Sprinkle writes from Hampstead. Her column appears every other Saturday.

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