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The American Family

By Stacey Roberts





We are weakest when we are isolated and lonely. Americans nowadays are more alone than ever. Most of our eye contact is with a screen, not another person. Our troubles mount, but we feel like they are our solitary burden to bear. When we do complain, it is about trivialities: bad service, slow Internet, that movie we didn’t like, traffic, the daily news, and strangers we’ll never see again.


We don’t talk about the big things, the ones that weigh us down: debt, rising costs, job security, our health, our children, our parents, our future. We don’t talk about the generalized feeling far too many of us have that something just isn’t right with the country and the world.


We rant on the Internet in echo chambers designed to reflect back to us the amplified sound of our own voice, but these are forums for grievances, not solutions. The fixes offered in these venues are more destructive than productive, and steadily increase in vehemence: Get rid of this official. Eliminate this agency. It would be great if there were no more immigrants. Or homeless people. Or single parents. Or criminals. Or Democrats. Or Republicans. If the half of the country we don’t like could just cleave itself free and go its own way, we’d be better off. If there were fewer of us, instead of more of us.


Because we have isolated ourselves, or been isolated—by a pandemic, or long work hours, or financial trouble, or illness, or entertainment and food delivered to our front door so we never have to leave the house, we imagine a population viewed through a mirror, not a lens. If the only person we ever see in person is ourselves, we lose patience and tolerance for others. We believe we don’t need anyone else.


This isolation isn’t solely our own doing. A disunited, fragmented population is helpless. It’s easier to pass laws and change policy when only a few people raise their voice or show up to vote. With no mass support for anything and no mass opposition to anything, those with single-issue agendas or self-interested agendas will always get their way.


The Valley Forge Project isn’t just a mechanism to amend the Constitution. That’s one stop on the journey, not the destination. Our big idea is unity, that our country’s most formidable rise has come when our people speak in one voice about the biggest issues we face. When we all work together. When we abandon selfish trivialities and tribal thinking and elevate our discourse to a vast and inspiring vision of what our country can be.


Like that time less than a hundred people stood in a hot room in summertime Philadelphia and imagined an independent America that stretched across an entire continent. Like that time the ten thousand soldiers who stood between victory and defeat drilled shoeless in the snow with their muskets at Valley Forge and came to believe they could beat the world’s best army.


The delegates to the Continental Congress, in private, didn’t think they could ever reach consensus with men from different places or backgrounds or beliefs. The Massachusetts militia at Valley Forge didn’t much like the Virginia irregulars with their long rifles. Quite a few of George Washington’s generals openly despised each other.


When they were apart.


But when it was time to come together, to stand side by side and vote for independence or march in step or plan a battle, they did it and it worked.


Why? Because there is no substitute for looking your fellow citizen in the eye.


Modernization means that we don’t often stay in the town where we grew up. Most of us live far from our relatives and don’t see them much even when they’re close by. Our support systems get smaller as time goes by. Our families are the ones we choose instead of the ones we were born into.


And that’s okay. Your fellow American is your brother or your sister, or should be. Citizens can depend on each other in the same way the cousin you fought with as a child will show up when you need help. Because families have undeniable and inescapable connections and obligations.


We hope to renew those bonds. It is our fondest wish that Americans see each other once more as companions and helpers, even if we don’t completely agree on everything. We want to re-consecrate our commitments to each other and the nation. We want to build a community capable of the kind of greatness Americans have shown in times past.


Valley Forge is our inspiration and our blueprint. When General Washington recruited officers for his command staff, he wasn’t merely picking them to be part of a military organization. Those weren’t the words he used.


George Washington asked them to join his family.





Stacey Roberts is the author of “No One Left But All Of Us” and the founder and executive director of the Valley Forge Project. He can be reached at stacey@valleyforgeproject.org.

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