E Pluribus Unum or E Unum Pluribus?

Rich Kiper/Leavenworth
Rich Kiper

Independence Day, the Fourth of July, is upon us. From July 4, 1776, the date of the formal adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Americans have celebrated our independence.

Barbecues, fireworks, patriotic concerts, American flags and the national anthem are celebrations of “E Pluribus Unum.” 

“Out of many, one” was the joining of 13 colonies into one united nation. 

In 1782, those Latin words became the motto of the seal of the Unites States, and in 1795, they appeared on U.S. coins. “E Pluribus Unum” was the de facto motto until 1956 when Congress adopted “In God we Trust” as our official national motto.

Our nation’s first flags, the Betsy Ross flag and the Gadsden flag (“Don’t Tread On Me”), flew during our revolution. Now individuals scorn both flags by claiming them to be racist. An estimated 5,000 free Blacks and slaves fought under those flags in the Continental Army. That Virginia freed slaves who fought under those flags is irrelevant.

In 1777, the Second Continental Congress adopted the design of our flag. It has flown around the globe. It adorns classrooms and flag poles and government buildings and homes across the land. 

The American Civil War tore us apart, but over time we again became one united nation. We survived the race riots of the 1960s. We survived the segregated water fountains and lunch counters and gradually began to shed the bigotry of that era.

More of that bigotry was shed when Martin Luther King said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” 

Not everyone agreed, but, over time, race relations began to change. And over time, schools became integrated, but not without violence and unequal school systems.

In Vietnam in the 1960s, we fought side-by-side with men of all races. Men of all races were our commanders. Side-by-side we bled and our flag covered our caskets.

It seems but a twinkling of an eye when everything changed. As we cannot change the past, the mission now is to erase the past. Those dead white men who wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers must have their statues destroyed and their names on schools erased. It is inconsequential that they gave us the means to better the lives of millions who flock here legally and illegally to live under our flag – a beacon that signifies sacrifice, freedom, democracy, rights of religion and speech and assembly and law and the right to bear arms. 

We are becoming a bipolar country separated by politics, ideology, race and an inability or unwillingness to see the good that was done for our country by those who were flawed. There is no room for forgiveness or understanding the mores of an earlier time or the fact that humans are imperfect creatures. Only those who topple statues and trample on our flag are without sin.

“E Pluribus Unum” is being fractured by those who separate our country into groups of races, oppressors and oppressed, advantaged and disadvantaged, victims and victors, gender, sex, identity or whatever is next for vilification. Rev. King’s desire for “content of their character” has been turned on its head.

The white stripes on our flag indicate purity. An MSNBC contributor argues that America is not pure. “It is broken and in pieces.” She believes that the flag “sends a clear message: ‘This is my country … not your country. I own this.’” She calls for a new flag that would have “the colors of ALL of us – your skin tone and mine.”

We are on the threshold of the unraveling of, not just our flag, but America.

One Olympian stated that her goal is “to win the Olympics so I can burn a U.S. flag on the podium.”

Another Olympian turned her back at the playing of the national anthem and said “The anthem doesn’t speak for me. It never has.” 

Will we surrender to those who disavow our flag, our national anthem and our country?

Will we allow the United States to become “E Unum Pluribus?”  “Out of one, many?”

Rich Kiper is a Leavenworth Times columnist.