American Exceptionalism, The Good Kind
When I think of Elizabeth Warren, I think of her as a fiery warrior on behalf of consumers and the 99%, fearlessly taking on the biggest and baddest of all the special interests, Wall Street. But she is also the senior Senator from the great state Massachusetts, and her first speech on the floor of the Senate was not on any economic issue, but on the terrorism at the Boston Marathon. It was a beautiful speech, well worth taking the time to read or view below. While on one level, it was the classic kind of post-tragedy speech you would expect from a politician who represents the place the terrible events happened, full of praise for the courage and resolve of her home state’s people, she did something more with the speech which reminded me of why I love her:
She talked about the value of community, about our responsibility for each other. She used one of my all-time favorite quotes, from early Pilgrim John Winthrop. Winthrop is most famous for his “City on a Hill” speech, which has inspired many Americans with its idea of American exceptionalism. But for Winthrop, this new land would only be exceptional, would only be blessed by God, if we looked out for each other, if we were our brothers and sisters’ keepers. In the passage Warren quoted, Winthrop said that our mission was
“to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. … We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together…. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.”
Winthrop understood that America could only be great if its people created a beloved community where we all cared about each other and were there for each other, and that is the central idea driving Warren’s philosophy as well. As she put it, echoing Winthrop’s most fundamental idea:
“To all the families who lost their children; to all those who were injured and wear the scars of tragedy; to all the citizen-heroes, the first responders, the healers, who acted with courage in the midst of chaos; to all those who bore witness at Boylston Street; and to the people of Boston and of Massachusetts: No one can replace what we have lost. No one can relieve the weight of our sorrow.
But here today, and in the days and weeks ahead, wherever we are, we will grieve together, hurt together, and pray together.
And so today, I rise to remember the lives of those we have lost, to support those who survived, and to honor those who served.
Today, we remember Martin Richard, an eight-year old who, like third graders everywhere, spent time drawing pictures. A little boy who loved to play soccer, hockey, and baseball in his neighborhood in Dorchester. We also pray for his sister and mother to recover from their injuries.
We remember Krystle Campbell, who grew up in Medford and never missed the Marathon. Lively and happy, Krystle was always there for others. When her grandmother was recovering from an operation, Krystle moved in to help care for her, because that’s the kind of young woman she was.
We remember Lu Lingzi, who came to the United States from China to study statistics. She loved Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, and she posted to her friends that morning that she had a wonderful breakfast. Her passing unites the world in our common humanity.
We will miss them.
To those who were injured on fifteenth of April, know that we are here for you.
Every year during the Marathon, we are one family. We cheer for each other, and we carry each other across finish lines. When tragedy strikes, we are also one family. We hurt together, and we help together.
In the weeks and months ahead, your struggles will be our struggles, your pain our pain, your efforts our efforts. We will be together through sorrow and anger, rehabilitation and recovery. We will be together because we are one family.”
This is the kind of idea that makes me passionate in my love for this country: that out of many, we became one people, one American family. That in this most diverse of countries, that when tragedy strikes, we come together and help each other. That when bad luck knocks us down, that our fellow Americans lend a hand to help lift us back to our feet. That we run toward the sounds of danger, not away, when our brothers and sisters are in danger. That is a country worth fighting for, worth believing in. That is America at its best.