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August 25, 2019

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Lincoln Memorial reminds us who we are and can still be

A country’s leader must provide security by economic and representational means to all its people, so that the insecurities of a faction do not manifest into acts of hate, violence and oppression against others.

If that security is not upheld, and vast division and confusion take its place, the very foundation of the country will falter, and its greatness along with it. It is imperative to remember that past democracies have fallen, and the United States is not immune to the internal pitfalls or external forces that seek to weaken and damage it.

As I explored the nation’s capital recently while spending a month at the Brookings Institution, I thought of this often. But in the city’s many monuments to our democracy, I found hope that the nation can overcome President Donald Trump’s attempts to enlarge the division between Americans.

I was particularly touched by the crowd of Americans and foreigners I found surrounding the Lincoln Memorial when I visited the monument. Their ethnic diversity was an astounding tribute to our 16th president.

The division present in the United States during Lincoln’s presidency, based on the egregious issues of slavery, was far more severe than the one we face today. The Civil War could have been prevented, were it not for the administrations of Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan, which did not adequately address those divisions and let them fester to the boiling point.

If someone without integrity or respect for human dignity had been elected in 1860, we might be living in a very different America today. But we live in the land of Lincoln because we passed the tests of that war and decided that our nation — amid our divisions — remains a union. We then began the arduous task of implementing the founding principles of equality and liberty, which set the stage for this country to become the leader that maintains world order.

One of the most profound moments in my life took place this past Memorial Day, when I visited Arlington Cemetery to pay my respects to our country’s precious dead.

On that still and cloudy morning, as I entered the cemetery with many others, my heart sank when I saw the outstretched fields and rolling hills of marble headstones. The headstones enshrineand commemorate the sacrifices of individuals — from unique origins, backgrounds, labels — united with others in their resolute belief of American ideals.

The cemetery stands to show the price paid for such foundational principles as liberty and access to opportunity for all, which are worth the sacrifice and which I, as an American and an immigrant, hold close to my heart.

The atmosphere was melancholy at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as people surrounding the tomb silently paid their respects and studied the routine of the tomb guard. No one spoke, and no one dared to take out a phone.

It started to mist, as the choir in the amphitheater began to sing. And as we silently listened to the sublime sound of “America, the Beautiful,” “God Bless America” and “Shenandoah,” we genuinely seemed to be unified in the same sense of humbleness, compassion, sadness and self-reflection.

Understanding the immense sacrifices that others have made to protect us, give us the opportunity to thrive and continue the task of implementing equality and liberty must be applied to our own view of each other. Despite these trying times, most people are good, want to do good, and want to see good being done.

Not recognizing that the diversity in America makes America results in “men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister design, (that) may by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrage, and then betray the interests of the people,” as James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper No. 10 and as we can now seeembodied in our current president.

We cannot rely on a man who came to power by rubbing rusty metal shavings on our wounds to be the one who heals them.

Our duty is to shift our focus on other “T” words — time and truth. Time always wins, and with time, the truth comes out.

As a scientist, I hold truth in utmost importance, as its discovery and continuation is what solves the issues of this world. I am also aware of how easy it to come to the wrong conclusion and make the wrong assumptions when faced with complicated issues.

For the United States, that truth is found in our founding principles of equality and liberty, along with other freedoms which have the opportunity to prevail if we choose so, despite the current reign of treachery.

Mary Blankenship is an economics and chemistry double major, and Brookings public policy minor student at UNLV.