America has plenty of things that I oppose: racism, street violence, police brutality, lies and insults on social media, ideological propaganda. I am against it all. But what am I for?
I am for the Union.
The Union is the bond that holds fifty states and hundreds of millions of souls together as America. It is the land’s root system, joining the people west of the Missouri River with those east of it. The Union fuels the nation’s spirit on the coasts, the Rockies and the plains, the Great Lakes and the Gulf alike.
It was never a practical idea. The Union has nearly splintered many times. In fact, it almost never sprouted. The original colonies were too different — divided by size, population, climate, class, economy, and religion — to make a coherent nation. The states could barely write their Constitution, even for a modestly more perfect Union, much less ratify it.
But it did sprout. We could only pursue happiness by sinking the same roots and being fed by the same sap that fed our rivals. Well before the Constitution, the Deist Ben Franklin and the Calvinist John Witherspoon both realized that the course of human events led to the Union, and they signed their names on the same Declaration of Independence. They signed even though each thought the other’s ideas might break progress.
The Union supports freedom by letting branches reach beyond the center. Because of the Union, our freedom is not a field of weeds and our unity is not a single crop. Also, the Union endures longer than a season. It is strong enough to outlive wars, recessions, and even our own wickedness. Should America favor England over France, free trade over protection, slavery over abolition, civil rights over segregation? Regardless of such fights, the Union grows.
Inevitably, a branch imagines that it should be free. The other sections of the Union are insulting, even malicious. Our branch alone has the answers. We are the only ones who remember what America stands for.
The branches in America always behave that way. We’re a nation of blowhards. We’re loud and boring.
I am for the whole tree, not just my branch. I am just as opinionated as everyone else. But I suspect that if my part were to break away — if I were freed from the necessity of the Union — I would wither in self-regard like a dried-up stick. I would become more wicked.
The Union is not the last best hope of earth because it is righteous. Its parts are sinful. It has massacred, enslaved, bombed, incarcerated, appropriated, and stolen as much as any other nation. America is exceptional for other reasons. The Union forces us to reckon with our sins in peace. We either grow together or we rot.
On that principle, I am for the Union. I can remain bound to other sinners in this leaning, misshapen tree. Maybe I won’t be able to agree with them about God, the destiny of earth, or hope beyond it. Maybe we won’t agree about law, economics, war, or peace either. But the Union will hold our struggling in check. It will continue to give this fallen world an example of what it means to be conceived in liberty.
Our free struggle over sin is more perfect than some faction’s utopia of coerced virtue.