Listening to the passionate, inclusive answers by Congressman Beto O’Rourke to questions during last night’s episode of Hardball with Chris Matthews reminded me there is still hope for our political process. Mr. O’Rourke is running for the U.S. Senate in Texas.
Time and again he refused to get into the common political practice these days of attacking an opponent. And instead “called upon our better angels.” (he didn’t actually use that phrase but it summarized what he was saying). That phrase is from President Lincoln’s first inaugural address: “I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
It has been so discouraging and exhausting to hear the continuing calls of fear and hate by the current Republican President and Congress, who strive for division, in stark contrast to Congressman O’Rourke’s message of inclusion.
“This idea, Andrea, that we can send 5,000 service members to the border and somehow stop migrants, refugees, asylum seekers fleeing the most dangerous countries in the hemisphere — or that we could build a 2,000-mile wall at a cost of $30 billion, where we’d have to take someone’s ranch, or farm, or property through the use of eminent domain to build something that we don’t need at a time of record security and safety for border communities like mine in El Paso…” he said. “It’s ridiculous. It’s again this idea that we can be governed by our fears.”
He concluded: “Remember the proud heritage of this defining immigrant story, state, and experience that is Texas. That’s who we are… El Paso is one of the safest cities in the United States of America — not in spite of, but because we are a city of immigrants.”
Another time Congressman O’Rourke explained why he did not think it was unpatriotic for NFL players to kneel during the national anthem.
He said our freedoms have not only been won by the military (and thanked the veterans in the audience for their service), but also by Americans who put their lives on the line, peacefully protesting. He spoke about Martin Luther King and the struggles for civil rights. He mentioned those killed and imprisoned. The bravery of the Freedom Riders.
Congressman O’Rourke then said “nonviolent protests, including taking a knee at a football game to point out that Black men, unarmed, Black teenagers, unarmed and Black children, unarmed, are being killed at a frightening level right now including by members of law enforcement without accountability and without justice. And this problem, as grave as it is not going to fix itself and they’re frustrated frankly with people like me and those in positions of public trust and power who have been unable to resolve this or bring justice for what has been done and to stop it from continuing to happen in this country. And so non-violently, peacefully while the eyes of this country are watching these games they take a knee to bring our attention and our focus to this problem to ensure that we fix it. That is why they are doing it and I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up or taking the knee.”
This election is a choice between building bridges or (literally) building walls.