In many ways a community, a nation, is a collection of stories. Some are true, some are myth, all help us understand ourselves. Those stories are what bind us together, give us a common history, a narrative we can all believe. George Washington cutting down the apple tree, John Paul Jones fighting on the high seas, the Declaration of Independence’s “all men are created equal,” Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, whether they are myth, aspiration, promise, they all tie us together. They are the stories we grew up with, they are the stories we believe in.
Because they are stories that unite us they are broad and not very deep. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the words of Emma Lazarus that now grace the Statue of Liberty, give us a common aspiration and a common origin, even though there are almost as many exceptions as there are acceptances to her words. Remember that Native Americans didn’t become U.S. citizens until 1924, women didn’t get the vote nationally until 1920, and Asians amongst others were excluded from the American Dream by the Johnson-Reed Act. Now there are plans to make those words even less relevant for prospective immigrants, though most of us point with pride to ancestors who squeezed through the door with nothing in their favor but a willingness to work and a strong belief that there were better opportunities, a better future, for them and theirs here in America.
The strength of our stories is that they unite us. We all fought at the Alamo with Davey Crockett, flew to the moon with Neil Armstrong, discovered the telephone with Alexander G. Bell. Because we have these stories we have common memories, we have similar aspirations and dreams. That’s a good thing, it helps unite us regardless of our political leanings, our disparate religions, our level of economic success. We all want to grow up to be Steven Jobs or Bill Gates or Dwight Eisenhower. We want to survive the sinking of the P.T. 109 with John Kennedy.
Our stories unite us, but they can also very easily divide us. The Klu Klux Klan (KKK) is a story that is complicated, messy and scary. There are a lot of people around the country who have family ancestors who were members and who were complicit in horrendous acts against other citizens. At various times Roman Catholics, Jews, Blacks, Hispanics and others were targeted. The motivations of KKK members might not always be as clear-cut as we’d like them to be, but the result had a depressing sameness. So did it matter if a man joined because he thought it was the patriotic thing to do or because he hated and feared his neighbors? At the end it didn’t matter, the damage to the nation’s psyche, to the neighbors who were targeted, to our belief in ourselves and what we stand for, all were irretrievably broken.
So listen to this story, and tell me whether it is a unite or a divide story. Tell me, tell yourself, if it matters. Some things make us stronger, some weaken us. Is it only in the eye of the beholder? Or does it matter deeply, desperately? You decide.
A man from a town down the road a bit comes up to you one day and tells you he wants you to know about something he heard that might well effect you. He tells you he was at a party a year ago when a young man from your town started bragging to him about a plan the young man was involved in that included breaking into your garage and stealing items out of it. He went on to claim that he had several co-conspirators, including your mayor’s son. And the kid said he was protected from consequences, which made the man from down the road wonder how far the conspiracy, if there was one, went. So he tells you he went to the State Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and told them what he had heard. He wanted you to know in case an investigator talked to you, or in case you noticed items missing from your garage. He was not telling you it was true, he was telling you he had heard things that were concerning involving matters that might well be criminal, and that he had reported what he had heard.
What is your response to the man? Are you upset with him, do you call him a snitch and a trouble maker, do you want him and the CID investigator to be investigated? Do you think they should be jailed, spurned because they scrutinized allegations?
This story matters because this is basically what happened in 2016. An Australian ambassador heard a junior member of the Trump team brag about behavior that was at best unethical and at worst illegal. He did his duty and reported it, which led finally to the Mueller investigation. He didn’t say anything wrong had occurred, he said he had information that was concerning. Somehow our Representative, Liz Cheney, has morphed this into treasonous activity that should lead to serious consequences not for the perpetrator(s) but for the investigators, for those who had the temerity to probe possible illegal activity. This is a story that doesn’t have a good ending, that will only further divide us. Ms. Cheney, what are you thinking?
Dennis Jones is a retired resident of Rawlins. He worked construction for 15 years and was an employee with the Wyoming State Penitentiary for 25. He grew up in Fremont County, and he graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1972.