We’ve got a lot of problems in America today. A pandemic. A recession. A surge of violence in our major cities drowning out a nationwide call for justice and hope.
We have work to do in this body and in this city to solve these problems and to heed that call. And our voters sent us here to make things better. To rebuild. To heal.
But that’s not what we’re doing.
No, for the last several weeks, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and their allies in the media, and some professional political activists on a payroll, have been trying to divide us against each other, to paralyze us, to stoke resentment of our fellow citizens and hatred of this nation that we all call home.
It’s really remarkable, if you think about, that just a few short weeks ago we were united in outrage at the murder of George Floyd. We were united in impatience for justice for his family.
And nothing has changed about that. All people of good will still want justice to be done. I do. But the call of the marchers has been weaponized by partisans, who want nothing more than to say that only some Americans really support equal justice under the law. Only some institutions of government are really committed to that cause. Only one party can be trusted to govern in good faith. Only one political coalition is righteous enough to rule over the other.
You don’t hear talk of unity watching MSNBC or reading the New York Times these days. Instead those outlets are drawing up a list of new villains.
Not Floyd’s killer. No, not him. We’re way past George Floyd now, I guess. Now we’re talking about new grievances — “structural” evils endemic to America itself. The police. The military. The flag. Oh, and of course, the president.
It’s always about the president.
Actually what it’s really about are the president’s voters. It’s about the people who elected him. It’s about the red states, like mine. It’s about the people who live there. The elite media, the woke mob, they don’t like these people. And they want the rest of America to dislike them too.
This is why they are telling us that it wasn’t a homicidal cop who killed George Floyd. No, his death now is the product of “systemic racism,” we’re told, and anyone who doesn’t acknowledge their role in his death — anyone who doesn’t bend their knee to this extreme ideology — is complicit in violence.
It’s not enough, apparently, to bring Derek Chauvin to justice for his crimes. Now we have to defund all police.
There is no scab they will not pick at, no divide they will not exploit, no controversy they will not gin up to make us hate each other.
But we cannot take their bait.
In the last weeks we’ve seen a professor put on leave for quoting the words of Martin Luther King Jr. Not woke enough.
We’ve seen the New York Times fire its opinion page editor for daring to publish the words of a Republican senator. He forgot the party line.
We’ve seen a literal insurrection in the streets of Seattle — a breakaway antifa enclave ruled by a self-described “warlord,” you cannot make this stuff up — lauded, now, in some quarters at least, as an experiment in post-police governance.
And we’ve had a bill introduced in the House to bring that experiment in chaos to our cities and towns all across the country and to demonize the fine men and women who put their lives on the line day and night to protect protesters’ right to demand justice.
Now, the madness is accelerating this month, but the radical left has been at this for a while.
The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for the 1619 Project, a propaganda campaign designed to recast America’s founding as an evil event and American democracy as a system of violent racial oppression.
It won that prize despite wide criticism by historians who objected to its historical revisionism. And now, with the Pulitzer seal of approval, the Times is developing a 1619 grade school curriculum so that our children will be indoctrinated to hate this country, at taxpayer expense.
They want to do to our public schools what they’ve already done to the universities.
What does any of this have to do with healing our nation? What does it have to do with bringing about that more perfect union whose achievement is our shared ambition and shared obligation as Americans? The answer is, “nothing.” And that’s the point.
As has been widely reported, this week one of my Senate colleagues introduced a measure to strip all military installations and bases in this country of reference to Confederate soldiers or Confederate history. And for what purpose? To achieve justice for George Floyd? To bring our nation together?
No, I don’t think so. The purpose was to erase from history every person and name and event not righteous enough, and to cast those who would object as defenders of the cause of slavery, to reenact in our current politics that Civil War that tore brother against brother and divided this nation against itself.
You’d think the way some in the media talk about this country that they’re sad we’re still not fighting the Civil War. They would like us to fight a new civil war in our culture, day and night, without end.
I’d suggest to my colleagues that the Civil War not only gave us villains, it also gave us heroes and a more perfect union to love.
Maybe we should learn from those heroes. We should learn from Lincoln, who called our nation to unity at Gettysburg.
“It is for us the living,“ he told us, “to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced … to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
You visit Gettysburg, and you’ll find monuments to the dead of free states and slave states alike. And you’ll see children who were brought by their parents after long car drives from their homes, drawn in by these old symbols and memorials to the lessons those teach about our nation’s new birth of freedom.
The Americans who visit these hallowed grounds, all across our country, want to know why this nation fought a war against itself — why brothers could not live under one flag together. We teach them there, in those places, how we became a better nation through the crucible of that terrible war. And we teach them there to be proud that we did so.
That hard-fought pride, in the shared struggle that unites us, is now fading. That story is being erased. A nation united in the cause of justice is dividing. And we are increasingly at war with ourselves.
This cannot continue. This great nation and its good people cannot continue our life of freedom together if we vilify and destroy each other from within.
Now, before we vote on this floor on the National Defense Authorization Act, I will offer an amendment to undo this effort at historical revisionism.
I will offer it not to celebrate the cause of the Confederacy but to embrace the cause of union, our union, shared together as Americans. It is time for our leaders to stop using their position here to divide us. Let us work together, instead, to build on the history and the responsibility that we share as Americans to continue that “unfinished work” of this nation that we call home.