These days, as I read the news, I find the words to an old Bob Dylan song running through my head:
I can’t see my reflection in the mirror
I can’t speak the sounds that show no pain
I can’t hear the echo of my footsteps
I can’t remember the sound of my own name.
We Americans have lost our way.
This is not the America I have known, the America I was taught to honor, even revere, as a child. This is not the America to which I pledged allegiance in school when I was a small boy.
That pledge didn’t proclaim liberty and justice only for some or just for those who support the president.
No, it promised liberty and justice for all.
That’s what this country was supposed to stand for. That’s who we Americans aspired to be, the people who created a land where everyone could be free.
In the past, we Americans sacrificed in defense of liberty. We fought wars – even with ourselves – to keep or make people free.
In fact, we became a nation in the first place out of a desire to escape tyranny. So many American family stories – mine among them – contain tales of an ancestor fleeing oppression and hardship in search of freedom.
These are the stories that define us as a people.
Or at least they used to.
Now, though, we are the nation that tears families apart as they try to flee terror and seek asylum in the land of the free. We are the nation that rips children from the arms of their parents and places them in camps that are at best inadequate and at worst subhuman. We are the nation that sends people home to be killed by thugs and murderers.
We do this, the attorney general to the United States tells us, for biblical reasons.
“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command to Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a speech in Fort Wayne.
The biblical passage Sessions cites has figured in American history before.
Loyalists to the British crown leaned on it to make a case against the American Revolution in the 1770s. And southern slaveholders used the same words to combat the case for abolition in the years leading up to the Civil War.
Sessions, like so many self-proclaimed devout Christians, seems to miss the point of the crucifixion. Jesus’s suffering and martyrdom were powerful and redemptive in part because his punishment was so obviously unjust. His misery wasn’t just a comfort to the spirit, but also a challenge to the conscience.
Yet Jeff Sessions urges Americans now to stand with the heirs to Pontius Pilate and not with the spirit of the figure nailed to the cross.
Our policy regarding refugees, immigrants and their families – their children – isn’t biblical.
It isn’t conservative.
It isn’t liberal.
It’s just wrong.
And it’s mean.
It’s too much to expect this president and his cultish coterie of appeasers and enablers to understand America’s historic sense of moral aspiration. They view every national act through a prism of personal, political and financial self-interest.
But it’s not too much to expect that U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, and U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, both of whom are honorable men who have taken oaths to serve this country, will rise to their duty and remember who we are.
And what we stand for.
The same goes for the members of Indiana’s congressional delegation.
This is a time for them to put party aside and do the right thing – the decent thing.
And it is our duty as citizens to support them if they do.
If we do, if we stop this injustice, maybe we will be able once more to see our reflection in the mirror, hear the echo of our footsteps, remember the sound of our own name.
And, maybe, just maybe, once again speak the sounds that show no pain.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.