It might seem a bit counterintuitive to be giving thanks for Americans during a week that saw rioting across the United States in response to the grand jury's decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Ferguson, Missouri, resident Michael Brown. The incongruous image that captured the nation was that of President Obama calling for calm, spliced next to a live news feed of burning buildings, exploding cars and rampaging mobs. The quote that made headlines the next day was Michael Brown's stepfather saying, "Burn the b*tch down."
But lost in the countless stories about riots and protests in St. Louis, Los Angeles, New York, Boston and dozens of other locations were the stories of hope.
One such story is that of Ferguson business owner Natalie Dubose. The owner of Natalie's Cakes N More saw her precious new business vandalized, the windows broken, her baking equipment damaged or destroyed. A photo of her in tears in front of her building went viral. The day after the riots, Natalie created a fundraising campaign on the social media site GoFundMe to raise the $20,000 she needed to rebuild her bakery. Within 24 hours, thanks to thousands of people across the United States, Natalie Dubose had raised over $150,000 (and counting).
The sums donated were typically small. Many people gave only $5 or $10. According to an update Natalie posted, one lady came into the store where Natalie was cleaning up, and gave money from her Social Security check, bringing Natalie to tears.
There is a larger point in all of this: The popular narrative is about how racist this country is and how violent people in this country are. But most people in Ferguson were not violent. And while there are certainly people with bad racial attitudes, most Americans are not racists. Given the opportunity to do a small thing that made a huge difference for Natalie Dubose, people jumped at the chance. They didn't refuse to help because she's black. They didn't help because she's black. They helped because she was hurt and needed help, and because they COULD.
This is a wonderful country. I still believe that it is the best country in the world to live in. But how long has it been since anything in the popular media came across that way? Much of what passes for "news" now is just editorial opinion which picks and chooses from among the worst possible things people do, and then tries to make us believe that "most people" are like that.
That's bad enough, but admittedly typical for the press: "If it bleeds, it leads." What's really sad — destructive, in fact — is how few real statesmen (and women) we have these days, people who lead politically by reminding us to see the best in each other, and inspiring us to BE our best. Instead, our politicians and pundits drum up hatred, resentment and antipathy toward each other. They promote agony, create a false sense of helplessness about it, and then encourage us to look around for other people to blame for our circumstances.
Republicans look back fondly at Ronald Reagan in part because his ability to impart his positive attitude about America and Americans was among his special political gifts. Democrats, too, have had their inspiring leaders — Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy come to mind immediately.
We've just come through the midterm elections, and 2016 is two years away. But America is hungry for political leadership that looks for and promotes examples of our basic goodness, not to deflect attention from whatever problems we face, but to remind us that when we pull together, we can help ourselves and others. Candidates considering the presidency should remember that. Voters should insist upon it.
And it doesn't take much. It truly is the little things that matter, and we can ALL do little things.
• 11/13/14: Progressive Stupidity
• 11/06/14: GOP Victors Erode Left's Messaging
• 10/23/14: The Perils of a Compliant Media
• 10/23/14: 'Legal' Doesn't Equate to Moral Approval
• 10/20/14: Language in the Service of Life
• 10/09/14: Why does his administration refuse to protect us?
• 10/02/14: Toward a More Productive Policy Discourse
• 09/25/14: That burden called 'motherhood'
• 09/23/14: Obama's Johnny Bravo Moment