After years of civic breakdown in America, where just sitting around the dinner table with opinionated family members can be considered a toxic environment, it sometimes feels like there’s no hope for our democracy. Maybe you feel yourself, like everyone else, slipping down your own rabbit holes with little chance of escape. Then you pick up “What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism” by iconic reporter Dan Rather and everything changes.
This book feels like sipping a cold one with an old reporter friend in a slightly seedy downtown bar, the kind frequented by journalists working for near minimum wage, and sharing stories about the US of A. For every story that Rather shares, you feel a story of your own surface in your mind. It becomes a conversation. Rather talks through not only the highs and lows of his career, but the highs and lows of the nation since the darkest days of the cold war. He describes with surprising passion (for a former TV anchor) how the world has changed, and how the world changed him.
A special treat is listening to the audiobook narrated by Rather himself. You’ll probably hear his steady, nightly-news-broadcast voice in your head while reading his words, but having his earnest, thinly-veiled Texas drawl in your ears will put you on the barstool next to him. You’ll feel your eyes get misty as he recounts stories of how his family shaped him, selfless acts of courage, and even little “p” patriotism. It will be in those moments when you’re looking around to see if anyone is watching you that his voice will break with emotion as well. You’ll share a moment remembering a love of country you thought you lost during this period of hyper-polarized rhetoric.
This book is as unapologetically American as a Springsteen song. While there’s plenty of apple pie and Fourth of July, Rather dives into the darker side of society, approaching everything from race to fake news with a clear-eyed depth of understanding that only comes with reporting the news for over seventy years. Rather’s clarity about the differences between patriotism and the kind of blind nationalism that’s wreaking so much havoc today is a refreshing pathway back toward what makes the American social and governmental experiment something to celebrate.
Rather loves his country. It’s an inclusive, inviting love that you can’t help but get swept up in. Maybe it’s because he’s asking something of the reader. He’s not telling you that America is perfect and you should love it without question. Quite the opposite. He challenges you to question it. He’s also emphatic that America is pretty darn good and will only remain pretty good only if you, whoever you are, get involved in the messy processes of trying to make it better. That might be as heady as running for office, or as pedestrian as taking a plate of food to a neighbor who’s just experienced a loss. What makes America great is everyday Americans actively creating better communities.
This book might be your next read if:
- You’re looking for a steady voice of civility to walk you through the America of today while providing the context of the past
- You need to be reminded that the vibrant tapestry of America is actually its strength, rather than its weakness
- You love America, but you’re not sure you really like it
- You’re wondering if the American experiment can survive the next fifty years
- You want to have a quiet conversation about history, the present, and how you can be a better member of society
- You’re looking for hope, [even if it’s going to take some work]
Photo Credit: Amazon, Publisher: Algonquin Books