As published in the Daily Report.
Controversy runs in America’s veins. And with good reason—it is the lifeblood of democracy.
America has grappled with race more deeply, more violently, and more productively than any nation on Earth. The conflict is as old as we are.
Jefferson, Adams, and our founding fathers stitched us together into a country despite deep differences regarding race-based slavery. After decades of compromise and avoidance, the divisions that they sewed together tore open. Blood spilled from Gettysburg to Atlanta in a great war that officially ended race-based slavery. But decades of violence and intimidation followed. Government was itself divided—America’s courts demanded equality that heads of state rejected. Jim Crow cast a tyrannical shadow over the hopes of the freed, but he stumbled, fell, and was torn apart limb by limb. America integrated. Amid the howling protests of segregationists, our National Guard escorted a young black girl to school. Decades later, America elected a black man its President. Still the struggle is not finished.
At every turn it is controversy that moves us forward. Behind each official step has been the rough shove of public opinion. Our government stumbled forward with the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, then newspaper accounts of Jim Crow injustice, then photographs of fire hoses in Birmingham, then television coverage of Trayvon Martin, and now Twitter postings of #Ferguson. At every step there has been fury, blood, controversy, and argument. At every step America has emerged stronger.
We fight and we argue. Both have always been necessary. On fighting, Jefferson wrote that “[t]he tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” On arguing, he wrote that “[a] press that is free to investigate and criticize the government is absolutely essential.” Neither the rioting nor the fanatical rhetoric arising from Ferguson, Missouri is by itself productive, and neither should be encouraged. But neither should surprise us. Blood and argument move our country forward, and they always have. When the blood has drained into the gutters and the tweets have been relegated to archives, we will stand the stronger. #Ferguson.