I have been thinking about the things that have united our country since hearing that the Spanish American War may have helped to heal some of the divisions left over from the Civil War (at least those divisions among white Americans who found themselves on opposing sides).
Are we only united in war, when we have an outside enemy to fight? The Civil Rights movement helped to, and continues to help, unite more and more people, but it is a war in itself, just with deaths usually less visible, and it has always riled up an opposition, a less and less minority of people ready to stand in defense of the indefensible.
The space program may have come closest to uniting us without an adversary, as people across the USA watched in pride via television sets in living rooms in every American town as rockets launched Americans into space and to the moon. Even that had a subtler enemy as we raced the Soviets. But at least when there were deaths: Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia, we grieved as a nation. We did not feel compelled to rejoice in the deaths of those we fought.
The current pandemic has given us the perfect opportunity to unite against a definite enemy, a virus that we could come together and completely destroy without the remorse of having to win a war by dropping bombs on human beings or fellow Americans getting beaten up in the streets. But we completely failed to unite. Instead we have polarized into factions to fight over wearing masks, the only tool currently available to all, absent a vaccine, to fight this war. We can’t win without unity. Civil war and losing are now the norm. At this moment, we no longer deserve to have “united” in our nation’s name.