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The Home of the Brave? Vote to Continue to Make It So

by on November 01, 2018 5:00 AM

Our national anthem ends with the words “the land of the free and the home of the brave” to celebrate both our ideals and the history that ensured them. But those words must remind us that bravery must not be just static lyrics celebrating the past. We are still challenged to bravely carry freedom’s torch in an ever-changing world.

Yes, American history offers countless examples of bravery. We won world wars, went to the moon, built peaceful alliances and put together the Marshall Plan to rebuild allies and adversaries alike. Our people serve others across the world, through charity, the Peace Corps or doctors risking their own health racing to contain outbreaks in foreign lands.

At home, men and women of conscience and courage marched, bled and even died to get access to the ballot box, fair wages and for the human and civil rights promised people of all races and religions in this nation.

Now just decades after we fought a world war that vanquished mankind's most evil reign of Aryan/white supremacy, anti-Semitism and genocide, we are seeing in our own borders a rise in that era’s rhetoric. That rhetoric exploded into violent mass murder in our own state last Saturday.

Make no mistake, this was not an isolated incident of a lone madman, but rather a next logical step in a cycle of hate speech infecting the beliefs of weak-minded people. This is a time when people harboring those views express them more openly. In turn they start normalizing these radical and dangerous views to some people.

The refusal to stamp out hate speech and lies from anywhere is the politics of cowardice, the politics of division.

Politicians speak about "the globalists" and “the deep state,” legitimizing conspiracy theory terms that are code for a belief in some murky world order structure of banks, media and government apparatus controlled in part by Jewish people. Politicians stoke fears of a refugee caravan at our border, citing overblown threats to national security and our way of life. Some are now calling the caravan an “invasion.”

Why is the home of the brave so gripped by threats and fear, making us susceptible to the politics of fear and division?

Because we live in a time when a greater future for our children is not a given as it was in the past. We are in an era of global competition against nations who don’t blindly accept our leadership in every corner of the globe.

We fear that America's greatness as defined by preeminence in the world is not guaranteed, because we forget that it never was. We competed and attained greatness and it was never as easy as we want to believe.

And when things don’t go as we want them to it is far easier to point blame at “other people,” that has always been human nature.

Great challenges remain in our nation, but they know no race or religion. The inequality of educational opportunities or the judicial system does not discriminate solely along racial or religious divides, but rather along socioeconomic ones. The scourge of drug addiction is not restrained by demographics.

Yet some want us divided because we look, speak, love or worship differently or because some are not "from here." But we must face this truth: the challenges we face cross all lines and could unite us into action if our leaders encouraged us to extend ourselves to one another.

Once we had leaders who spoke to the aspirations we all had for all children, bravely challenging us to dream things that never were and then go out and do them. We've written some of human history's greatest chapters because our nation of immigrants put aside differences to change our nation and the world.

The American people united to solve the challenges facing our nation and facing the world is America at our best. That is what made us the home of the brave.

But in 2018 we’ve mistaken false bravado for fearlessness, the brash for the valorous. We have mistaken empty talk and false promises for action.

We may have fooled ourselves but we are no longer fooling the world. They see a nation in fear of competition or, worse still, acting from a fear of each other where we assign imagined sinister motives to anyone who disagrees with us or who is different from us.

It comes back to the brave. Brave people marched into violence in Selma. Brave people rose up against religious and racial inequality. Brave people faced threats to themselves and their lives because they knew their sacrifice would have meaning.

Brave people don’t mock or kick others when they are down. True leaders stand up to defend justice for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

Next week you can stand up to speak out for yourself and for others. VOTE. It doesn’t require uncommon valor or bloodshed to be counted. But it does require that you speak with the power handed to you across generations, and paid for by the blood shed by brave patriots in wars and in demonstrations.

They fought to ensure that tyranny and authoritarianism would have no place here. In a time when we must again prove that we are the home of the brave, your act of conscience will speak for future generations.


State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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