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Notes On _What Unites Us_

October 06, 2019

America has changed a lot since Dan Rather’s youth. Much of that change, though not all, has been positive - a transformation he chronicles in fifteen short and stirring essays in What Unites Us. The essays are as varied as Rather’s life experience. Covering deep issues of philosophy like freedom, community, exploration, responsibility, and character, the essays could easily have been cold and impersonal. Instead, Rather fills each one with personal anecdotes and observations that define the collection as uniquely his.

The stories Rather tells paint a picture of a dynamic nation experiencing rapid changes which frequently leads to unease and discomfort. Despite the potential for creating those same feelings in his readers, Rather puts readers at ease. He delivers warnings with an optimist’s spirit. Assuring himself and his audience that though challenges may lay ahead, he’s seen America face challenges before and persevere.

In an essay on Science, Rather articulates a reason for this extraordinary knack. “The United States was born in the spirit of science: What are we if not a great experiment?” Not all experiments succeed and America’s was never guaranteed, “but we have kept our experiment viable by altering it through new laws and amendments to our Constitution, just as scientific theories change to reflect new knowledge.” This experiment has bound America together and its citizens to one another through a belief in and love for “a nation of laws, not of men.” A nation that is always trying to live up to the ideals of its founding.

That is the constant struggle for America: always trying to improve. It is a consequence of experimentation. But we should have faith, because ours is a nation of strivers. Each person, each institution, and each community working to improve this country in the best way they know how. In a diverse nation, it’s impossible for it not to feel like sometimes we’re headed in the wrong direction. But so far, the great thing about America has been her resiliency. And the next time I feel like the moment is about to sweep me away, I’ll remember his words and take comfort. Steady, this too shall pass.


Stephen Weiss

Thanks for reading! My name's Stephen Weiss. I live in Chicago with my wife, Kate, and dog, Finn.
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