NOTE: This article was published in the Eagle Tribune on January 6, 2019.
If the climate of American public discourse today, which often seems hopelessly mired in division, blame, name calling and intolerance, has you frustrated or even despairing over the future of our republic, take heart, take the long view, and remember the carefully chosen words painted on the ceiling of our nation’s Capitol rotunda: E Pluribus Unum.
Yes, we are a country of contrasts and often contradictions; and it is those very differences that make us stronger.
Last Thursday, January third, the date set by the United States Constitution in 1788 for the annual convening of Congress, witnessed the oath of office for the most diverse legislative body in our nation’s history.
My daughters (Big Sis T and Little Sis Z) and I watched the proceedings with a crowd of fellow citizens in the offices of Lori Trahan, the newly elected representative for Massachusetts’ Third District, who made history herself by succeeding Niki Tsongas when she retired, and becoming the first woman to follow another woman into Congress from the Bay State.
Close to home, Big Sis and Little Sis have been fortunate enough to be inspired by several women leaders, including outgoing State Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives; State Representative, now Senator, Diana DiZoglio; Senator Elizabeth Warren (for whom Big Sis T has named her 2008 Volvo); Congresswoman Tsongas; and now Congresswoman Trahan.
But just a few days into the new year, and the new Congress, they have dozens of new inspirational role models and historical firsts. In all, there were 127 women—102 in the House and 25 in the Senate—sworn in, breaking last year’s record of 110.
And women weren’t the only ones blazing new trails. Members of America’s 116thCongress now include:
- New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, the youngest woman elected to Congress.
- Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar and Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib, the first Muslim women elected to Congress.
- Representative Ayanna Pressley, Massachusetts’ first black congresswoman.
- Representative Andy Kim, New Jersey’s first Asian American congressman.
- Kansas Representative Sharice Davids and New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland, the first Native American congresswomen.
- Chris Pappas, the first openly gay representative from New Hampshire; and Angie Craig, the first openly gay representative from Minnesota.
- Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the first openly bisexual person to serve in the Senate.
Even as the day-to-day headlines describe pitched battles over protectionism, isolationism, and nationalism—debates as old as the country itself over who gets to call themselves an American—the halls of Congress are beginning to look more like the cities and towns of our nation.
The French diplomat and social scientist Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, famously observed that, The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”
Yes, the climate of our public discourse may seem overwhelmingly divided and hostile right now; but we will mend it eventually, and it helps to remember that there is a difference between climateand culture.
Climate is the way things feel today, which, like the weather, is always changing. While some storms or stretches of balmy days may linger more than others, inevitably, a new day dawns.
Culture is more stable, longer lasting, and resistant to change.
Our national climate is printed in the headlines each day.
Our national culture is painted on the ceiling of our Capitol.
E Pluribus Unum.
Out of Many, One.