Monday, April 28, 2008

Jeremiah Wright and the Freedom to be Angry

A question simmering in the national debate, unconscionably but unforgettably asked by George Stephanopolous, is whether or not Jeremiah Wright loves America. I think it's a ridiculous question - the man served in the military. But whether or Wright loves or hates America, it is clear that the is angry at America. I think his anger is eminently justified, as an African-American who grew up in the era of segregation.

But more important than whether he loves or hates America, or whether or not his anger is justified, another thing is clear: he trusts America. Jeremiah Wright has made some incendiary comments about this country, comments that reasonable people, Barack Obama and myself included, find offensive.

But Jeremiah Wright has the freedom to be angry. He has the freedom to make a fool of himself. There are countries in this world where he could not make these kinds of comments without getting into serious trouble. There have been times in the history of this country when a black man who said the things that he has said would have been silenced, either by political means, financial means, or possibly even by violent means. But Jeremiah Wright, whether he is conscious of it or not, knows that he will not be silenced. And that is a good thing. It is a testament both to the freedom of speech we enjoy in this country, and to the progess that we have made towards achieving equal justice for all people, regardless of racial or ethnic background.

There are occasional debates in this country about the "intent" of the Founders. What exactly did they mean by various words and phrases that are used in the Constitution? Beyond any specifics, we know without a doubt that the Founders trusted us, their children and successors. They trusted us to find the right path, to make this democracy work. They did not make it easy - they intentionally made it hard. But they trusted us.

Jeremiah Wright, consciously or not, knows that the Founders trusted us. He understands, as most people do, that trust is difficult, and can be tested. He knows that trust can be gained and that it can be lost. But he has not lost his faith in America. He has not abandoned the trust that he has for this country. We know this because he trusts that he will not be silenced. He knows that, as much as he may anger his fellow Americans, he can trust them to respect his freedom of speech. He knows that, as an American, he shares a deep and abiding faith with other Americans in the importance of the freedom of speech. He knows that, much as they may not like what he says, other Americans will respect his right to say it. He trusts even those people he disagrees with, those people he does not like, those people he does not respect. He trusts them because he is American, and he trusts America. Which, in my mind, is about the best possible example of how to love America.

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