If you have a dollar bill handy, take it out and look at the back of it.
While I’m sure you’ve noticed the images there before, I’d like you to study them a little more carefully today, particularly focusing on the right side of the currency. There you will see the front side of the Great Seal of the United States of America (the seal’s reverse side is to the left).
Depending on how good your eyesight is, you might have some difficulty in discerning all the detail in this green-tinted version of the seal, so allow me to point out a few things.
The bald eagle, with its outspread wings, figures most prominently. It bears a shield with 13 stripes, representing the 13 original states. In its talons the eagle holds an olive branch on the left and 13 arrows on the right. Above its head is a cloud encircling a constellation made up of — you guessed it — 13 stars.
It seems the founders were obsessed with symbolizing the unity of those 13 states as the new nation took its place among the older countries in the world. In case you’ve never counted the steps to that bold pyramid on the reverse side of the seal, they number 13.
But to drive the point home, that Great Seal, the design of which began in 1776 and was formally adopted by Congress in 1782, bears a phrase that for generations was the unofficial motto of the country. The eagle holds in its mouth a scroll with the Latin words, “E pluribus unum” — “Out of many, one.”
What a noble concept. I wonder now what happened to it.
Where is that unity that the Founders espoused? Perhaps it never was consistently true, since from the beginning the states had their differences and the political parties always fought intensely. But there certainly have been many times in our history when, despite our differences, the many became one and stood united.
Today, it seems that rather than coming together, we look for any excuse to remain divided, often assigning labels to each other to further define our differences instead of noting the similarities that make us uniquely American.
We have become red and blue states, liberals and conservatives, right- or left-wingers and, depending on who’s doing the name-calling, un-patriotic socialists, crazy supremacists or bigoted isolationists.
I want to believe that we can be better than what we’ve demonstrated in recent years, that despite our differences and backgrounds we will find ways to bridge the chasms that separate us. I truly want to believe that.
To be honest, I have little hope.
Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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