November 19, 2017
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The U.S. was formed around ideals, not a race or religion

By George J. Mitchell
Updated:
Ashley L. Conti | BDN | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN | BDN
Former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell.

The statements by President Donald Trump regarding the events in Charlottesville were unwise and unfortunate, and represented a failure of leadership.

Most of the world’s nations were formed around homogeneous groups of people, in race or religion. The United States was formed around ideals. Set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, they’re not easy to summarize. But surely they include:

The sovereignty of the people; the primacy of individual liberty; an independent judicial system under the rule of law; opportunity for every member of society; and equal rights and equal justice for all.

It is our commitment to these ideals that make us Americans, not our race, our religion, or our heritage.

When the United States was established, it had a small population clinging to the Atlantic coast. For most of our history we have received people from around the world to fill a vast continent where we created a new and free system of governance. Obviously we cannot now return to the days of open immigration. But we should and must respect all of our people, whatever their race, their religion, their background.

The angry, violent and supremacist views of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists must be categorically and unequivocally rejected by all Americans.

Consider these few facts: Last year seven Americans received Nobel Prizes; six of them were immigrants. Among the most successful business enterprises in the world are Apple, Amazon and Google. Apple was founded by Steve Jobs, whose father was born in Syria. Amazon was created by Jeff Bezos, whose adoptive father was born in Cuba. Google was co-founded by Sergey Brin, who was born in Russia. Would we be a better country if they had not been admitted? Of equal importance, what are the chances that if Steve Jobs had lived his life in Syria he would have created Apple? Or Jeff Bezos in Cuba? Or Sergey Brin in Russia?

Genius knows no race, no religion. It can be found wherever there are human beings. But it is more likely to flourish where there is freedom, equality, opportunity and innovation.That place is America.

This week we are shocked and saddened. But we can and we must rise to the occasion, to make clear to all of our citizens and to the world that in America we accept and embrace and benefit from our diversity.

George J. Mitchell represented Maine in the U.S. Senate for 15 years, including six as majority leader. He later led Northern Ireland peace negotiations and chaired the International Fact Finding Committee on Violence in the Middle East. This OpEd is adapted from remarks he delivered at the Causeway Club in Southwest Harbor on Thursday.

 


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