It’s Time for Term Limits in Congress

Hailie Addison

The average age of House Members of the 117th Congress is 58.4 years and the average age of Senators is 64.3 years. 

As per the Constitution, you must be at least 25-years-old to be a Representative and at least 30-years-old to be a Senator. There are currently no term or maximum age limits for those in Congress. 

It is something that many of us wonder: How are people, almost three times our generation’s age, supposed to accurately represent young Americans and what we want?

Almost every industry has mandatory retirement based on age-related declines in vision and hearing, the ability to endure stress, and the increased risk of medical emergencies. Currently, 31 states and the District of Columbia require state-level judges to retire when they reach a certain age. But yet there are no age limits for those in Congress. Why?

Currently, there is little to no conversation around implementing maximum age limits among Congress. Many members of Congress agree that age limits are not something that we will be seeing anytime soon, even though 3 in 4 Americans favor it, and 4 in 10 Americans view the ages of political leaders as a major problem. 

However, term limits are a more feasible solution that we may see and that is widely favored among the American public. According to the last five national polls, 82% of Americans want term limits. This is an issue that both sides agree on, including 89% of Republicans, 76% of Democrats, and 83% of independents, and an issue that both President Trump and President Obama also agreed on. 

Term limits within Congress would give other politicians the chance to be in Congress, rather than keeping the same politicians in their seats for several years. It would also fix part of the age problem that so many Americans want fixed. For example, Nancy Pelosi, who is 82-years-old, has been representing San Francisco for 35 years. With term limits, Pelosi and other congress members in similar situations, would not be able to represent a district for so many years.. 

Given that so many Americans support term limits, and that members of Congress are elected to represent the American people, why do politicians not support term limits, too? 

The answer is quite simple, money and power. Members of Congress are able to gain power by remaining in office. The seniority system is an incentive for Congressional incumbents to stay in office, arguably longer than they should. Seniority is used to determine who gets first choice at offices and who gets to chair committees. This often turns into a campaign mechanism; the longer they are in office, the more power they hold. During campaigns, they are able to use the seniority system to their advantage which often gets them reelected. 

Many who are against term limits argue that to be a good lawmaker, you need experience which you gain by staying in your position for years on end. Yet Congress only has a 14% approval rating among the American people, and 60% say they would “fire every member of Congress if they could”. 

Another argument against term limits is that older generations need to be represented in Congress. Term limits would not end older generations holding office, they would allow for more diversity across the board, including in age, ethnicity, gender, and ideology. Older generations could still be represented, but so could other groups of people that have not had equal representation in the past. 

Already, Congress is growing in racial and ethnic diversity with 124 lawmakers in the 117th Congress identifying as Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander or Native American. But that is only roughly 23%, leaving the other 77% white.  

Regardless of how many Americans support term limits, many Congressional incumbents are against them for their own selfish reasons. The reason being power. Congress Members would not have power without the people that elected them to represent.

Not giving their people what they are asking for is an abuse of power. Power that their people gave them and trusted them with when they were elected. 

In order to rejuvenate the government, bring in fresh ideas and outlooks, and create accurate representation of America’s diverse society, we must have term limits. It is one of the only issues that a majority of Americans agree upon, regardless of their views or political affiliation. It is something that Americans have pushed for for over 25 years. It is not only long overdue, but it is a wrongdoing of Congress Members to not give the people what they want. You can not build a career based on representation of the American people if you are not willing to represent them accurately, even if it means sacrificing the power and position that you hold.

Jessica Carpenter

It’s no secret that guns and abortion are two of — if not the — most contentious topics in our politics. Where other issues center primarily on statistics and what policies may create the best outcome, abortion and guns find themselves grouped into a larger, more intangible idea: morality. 

Morals are our understanding and perception of “right” and “wrong”. How we view morality is framed by various things, including how and where we are raised, what values we are taught, how we view relationships with family members and friends, and also our understanding of responsibility.

For this reason, when discussions that rely heavily on individual morals find themselves at the forefront of our politics, they are some of the most heated. Even for BridgeUSA students. How do we explain the value we each place on life? More importantly, how are we able to talk about these issues constructively?

On June 23, the Supreme Court struck down a proposed New York law that would’ve limited who could obtain a permit to carry a gun in public, stating that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense. This decision comes after a series of mass shootings in May forced both legislators and the American public to re-address their view of gun laws in the U.S.

On June 24, the Supreme Court also released its ruling on Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health, overturning Roe v Wade. The ruling, which previously deemed a women’s right to an abortion a constitutional right in 1973, will now leave the decision up to individual states. 

Both of these rulings undoubtedly have added to the continued debate on gun laws and abortion, and may make it seem like these issues are impossible to discuss. Not only are these discussions difficult, but they also require us to reflect on our personal morals and be more deliberate in how we express those beliefs. This might be where the problem lies altogether.

A crowd gathers outside the Supreme Court after a draft opinion leaks that judges are planning to overturn Roe v Wade (Kent Nishimura, Los Angeles Times. 2022)

The split in moral understanding is nothing new in the United States. As I said, there are many factors that help form our understanding of morality and what we deem “morally right”. Studies suggest the majority of that formation can be dependent on one’s childhood and one’s culture. 

The Moral Foundations Theory was first proposed in 2004 to understand why morality varies so much across cultures. From their review of earlier research, psychologists Jonathan Haidt, Craig Joseph and Jesse Graham suggested that all individuals possess “intuitive ethics” that guide their understanding of morals. They labeled these foundations: Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal (Ingroup/Outgroup), Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation, with the latest addition including Liberty/Oppression – a nod to the influence of one’s political ideology on their perception of morality, as proposed by Haidt.

Each of these foundations centers on our perception of each group, and these understandings vary between groups of people, including Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

In 2009, Haidt and Graham proposed a new hypothesis to explain this difference between political groups. This theory suggested that “political liberals construct their moral systems primarily upon two psychological foundations—Harm/care and Fairness/reciprocity—whereas political conservatives construct moral systems more evenly upon the first five psychological foundations.”

If we take this theory and apply it to debates of abortion and gun laws today, it’s probable that many individuals on the left and right use the same measurements proposed in 2009 to dictate their stances. And this isn’t unique to just guns and abortion. According to the same study, American voters are also starting to use their values to guide their vote toward “their vision of a good society”. 

Now, just because our morals are formed through various means and experiences, this does not mean they are concrete, and studies show that our morals may change over time for various reasons. In fact, one of the main drivers of moral change is actually human interaction. 

According to, when we associate with other people and share common goals, we extend empathy to them. As we begin to meet other people outside of our immediate social circles, our ‘moral circle’ also widens and we may begin to shift our stances within certain moral foundations. 

This is all interesting, but where does that leave us as far as having discussions about moral issues go, currently? Seemingly, at a standstill. Due to growing divisions within the country, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are less likely to engage with those outside of their political or social circles. However, just because it is difficult to discuss issues centered primarily around morality with others, it doesn’t mean it is impossible. 

There is no one right way to discuss topics grounded in morality, including guns or abortion. Luckily, I’ve been able to pick up a few tips during my experience in BridgeUSA.

  1. Don’t dive straight into the conversation at first
  2. Decide what you want out of the conversation and have patience throughout
  3. Seek to understand the other person – not change their mind
  4. Agreement on the broader picture is not always likely, and it’s important to also focus on where some of your beliefs may overlap
  5. Remember that your “opponents” are people too, no matter how much you may disagree

Hundreds of gun owners and enthusiasts attend a rally in Hartford, CT on Jan. 19 (Rick Hartford/MCT/Landov)

No one in our country has figured out the right approach to these topics, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. As long as we’re still willing to engage each other and allow room for discussion and constructive disagreement on these topics, we can allow ourselves space to understand each other’s morals and still find ways to make change together.

One response to “Why Discussing Guns and Roe v Wade is Difficult, Even for BridgeUSA Students”

  1. Paula Laiewski Avatar
    Paula Laiewski

    Morality makes for a good start of the discussion understanding the why I believe what I believe

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Gracie Sightler

(Perspective from the Right)

In April of this year, the Department of Education released the latest student test scores on eighth-graders’ comprehension of U.S. history and government. There had been virtually no change in student scores in civics, with a meager 24% of eighth-graders testing “proficient” in that field. Meanwhile, proficiency in U.S. history fell by more than 15% from the last testing in 2014 to an embarrassing 15% total. This decrease occurred in almost every category of students tested. 

American lexicographer and “Father of American Education”, Noah Webster, On the Education of Youth in America, 1788, said it best, “Every child in America should be acquainted with his own country. He should read books that furnish him with ideas that will be useful to him in life and practice. As soon as he opens his lips, he should rehearse the history of his own country.” 

The lack of knowledge of our founding, on our government, on our economy, has opened the door to socialistic thought and aspirations of implementing it into economic policies and education. Moreover, it is also the lack of knowledge of the outcomes of socialism not being adequately taught in the education system. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, 51% of U.S. adults say socialism would be a bad thing for our country, 43% believe it would be a good thing. 

The current attack on historical figures, even more so on the Founding Fathers, is based on the assumption that man can achieve moral perfectionism. We are all in agreement that the Founders had imperfections. Still, the theory that America is based on inherent evil makes way for Socialist thought to replace our Constitution and our government. 

This criticism for our country’s founding is being implemented into our education system under the name “The 1619 Project” through a collection of essays, poems, and short fiction to completely rewrite our history. Even though The 1619 Project has been debunked by some of the greatest historians of our time, it is still making its way into classrooms. If the author, Nikole Hannah-Jones, has her way, it will be implemented into the entire history curriculum across America. 

The 1619 Project centers slavery at the heart of America’s story, in which America’s capitalist economic system and our government institution are inherently racist. It also paints the Founders as fundamentally racist.

The Gulf Stream, Winslow Homer (1899)

However, in every letter, legislation, essay and so on, that the Founders spoke on the subject of slavery, they denounced it as an institution and spoke of their hopes of it being abolished in the future. Not once does The 1619 Project bring the Founders own words on the topic of slavery to be an example to their claims because it would rebuke them. 

In 2019, Hannah-Jones stated to Vox founder Ezra Klein that “If you want to see the most equal, multiracial, it’s not a democracy, but the most equal multiracial country in our hemisphere, it would be Cuba…Cuba has the least inequality between black and white people of any place in the hemisphere.” She is right in the sense that everyone is equally malnourished and impoverished under Cuba’s communist government. She also admitted the identity of the 1619 Project by also emphasizing, “In places that are biracial countries, Cuba actually has the least inequality, and that’s largely due to socialism.” Her claims that our capitalist system is inherently racist is a misleading allegation in the sense that slavery existed throughout the world before Adam Smith ever developed the capitalist economic system; the term “slave” itself originates in the word “Slav”. Hence, the Slavic people were taken as slaves by the Muslims of Spain during the 9th century A.D. 

Socialism is another form of slavery, in which it forces citizens to work for others without compensation and seizes private property. There is no individual freedom for anyone, no matter your race, sex or religion. Hannah-Jones’ allegation about Cuba being a haven for racial peace and equality is also incorrect. 

Protesters march through Downtown San Diego on Sunday to show support for Cubans unhappy with their government. (Kristian Carreon/For The U-T)

In 2009, 70% of Black Cubans were projected to be unemployed. This has led to an increase in the “black market” and other criminal activities, which has resulted in a prison population of 85% black. Meanwhile, 58% of White Cubans stated that Black Cubans were “less intelligent” than whites according to a 2005 survey

The 1619 Project is just another reversal of past tactics to justify socialism and to annihilate history, because, in truth, history is its greatest enemy. It does not lie, but it tells a story. Socialism has never had a happy fairytale ending. History is not perfect; it isn’t always equal, it isn’t always just, it isn’t

always morally right, but it also tells stories of heroes who prevailed during times of injustice and war. It gives hope that we too can prevail as others have before us.

In reality, the Founders knew themselves that they were not perfect men, but were determined to give us a Union of freedom, these words by James Madison in Federalist No. 51 exemplify this, “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.” 

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Hailie Addison

(Perspective from the Left)

“This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”

This quote from Elmer Davis, the Director of the United States Office of War Information during World War II, quickly circulated around America, becoming a quote used by many to celebrate and honor those who have served in the United States military. 

It is used on days such as Memorial Day and July 4th, days we thank those who have given their time and sometimes, life to ensure the freedoms promised to us in the United States Constitution, freedoms promised to us by the highest powers in our country. 

The fight for individual freedoms is one that continues today, and it’s a fight that also exists outside of the United States military. Where the U.S. military fights everyday to keep this nation free, we must also not discredit the thousands of other Americans who have fought and continue to fight to ensure we have essential freedoms back home. 

So what is “freedom”? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, freedom is defined as, “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” In America, we are obviously not free to do whatever we want. We have laws and rules to ensure there is not total chaos and that we, as Americans, are safe and protected. 

The United States Constitution protects many of our rights, including free speech, the right to bear arms and the freedom from unlawful search and seizure. But, there are other freedoms people throughout history have worked to gain for Americans. One of these being reproductive rights. 

Women such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Margaret Sanger, Loretta J. Ross, Mary Calderone, and Grace Kodindo have spent their lives fighting for women’s reproductive rights. These women, as well as countless others, have been brave enough to stand up and fight for  equality, and a woman’s right to autonomy and to her body.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg taking the court oath from Chief Justice William Rehnquist on Aug. 10, 1993. (AP Photo)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought for gender equality and women’s rights, becoming the director of the Women’s Rights Project, and winning five landmark cases on gender equality in the Supreme Court. She was a crucial player in passing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. 

Margaret Sanger was a leader in the reproductive rights movement throughout the early 1900’s, most notably in the fight for birth control. She helped form the American Birth Control League, a predecessor of Planned Parenthood. 

Mary Calderone, was the medical director at the Planned Parenthood Federation in 1953 and founded the Sexuality Information and Education Council. Her work in the American Medical Association overturned a policy that dissuaded physicians from giving information about birth control to their patients. 

It is important to celebrate these individuals, just as important as it is to celebrate the ones fighting overseas. Especially, during times in this country that women will again have to fight for these freedoms. 

On June 24, 2022, the landmark Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade was overturned. According to the Washington Post, with this ruling twenty-two states have already banned or will ban abortions. It’s not hard to imagine an America without access to safe abortions because women have already lived in that America. 

Prior to Roe v. Wade, abortions were prohibited in 33 states and were only allowed in special circumstances in 13 others.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, an estimated 200,000 to 1.2 million illegal abortions were performed a year in the United States, PBS reported. Hundreds of women died every year from botched procedures. In New York City alone, abortion accounted for half of all childbirth-related death among non-white and Puerto Rican women. 

Byllye Avery, a health care activist in Florida, counseled many women in the 1970’s who had unwanted pregnancies. During this time, abortion was legal in New York or abroad so she would often give those options to women who wanted to terminate their pregnancies.

She herself had to travel to Puerto Rico to get an abortion. One of Avery’s patients did not have the means to travel to New York or abroad. A month or two later, the woman died of a self induced abortion. 

“You would either put yourself at risk by self-inflicting an abortion, using knitting needles, crochet needles, anything that could stop — take big black pills,” Avery told PBS. 

When abortion became legal on January 22, 1973, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the annual number of legal abortions doubled between 1973 and 1979. 

In 2020, the Guttmacher Institute estimated that 930,160 abortions took place in the United States. In 2022, women are being forced to fight the same battles that generations before them have already fought.

Not even a month after Roe v. Wade was overturned, a 10-year-old girl from Ohio had to cross state lines to get a safe abortion after she was raped. 

What if that girl did not have the financial support to cross state lines for a safe abortion? Would she have to carry a pregnancy that was in result of a rape? Would she get a backstreet abortion? Or maybe a self induced one? Would she still be alive? 

Abortions are not going to stop just because they are illegal. Illegal, unsafe abortions are going to rise, and with that, so will the death of women. 

According to the Guttmacher Institute, abortion rates are similar between countries where it is legal and illegal to receive an abortion. . However, in parts of the world where abortion is illegal, botched procedures cause 8% to 11% of all maternal deaths, about 30,000 deaths each year. 

This brings us back to Elmer Davis’ quote, “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.” 

We have seen how brave women can be; we have seen them fighting for their reproductive rights and freedoms since the 1950’s and 1960’s. It is time for us to be “the brave”. 

We must stand up for access to safe abortions, before more women die of unsafe abortions. We must stand up for the individual rights of women to choose their path in life, to choose what they feel is best for themselves. We must stand up to allow women to have a say in their healthcare, we must challenge the idea that women do not have the right to make their own decisions about their own bodies. 

We must be as brave as the 10-year-old girl from Ohio who traveled to Indiana to get an abortion in 2022. 

We must be as brave Byllye Avery who traveled from Florida to Puerto Rico to get an abortion in the 1960’s. 

We must be as brave as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Margaret Sanger, Loretta J. Ross, Mary Calderone, and Grace Kodindo who spent their lives fighting for reproductive rights and freedoms. 

Fifty years later, we should not be fighting the same fights generations before us did. Fifty years later, women should not be told what they can and can’t do with their bodies. Fifty years later, women’s bodies should not be part of a political debate. 

It is a very scary time for women across the country. It is a time in our history that we once again must be brave enough to stand up for what we believe in and fight for our freedoms, the same way our grandmothers and great grandmothers did. We must embody their bravery and courage to combat what is to come and hopefully make America a safe place for the reproductive rights of our daughters, granddaughters, and great granddaughters. 

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Manu Meel

American culture has never been completely separate from our politics. From the social media trends we follow to the movies we watch, our culture has always been a subtle reflection of societal values, and oftentimes, has served as a platform for new ideas. And yet, the recent push to use movies as tools for fighting our political battles is turning what was predominantly a mode of entertainment into a mode for our culture wars. Those pushing tribalist entertainment must be held accountable before the industry is also a means for tribal politics. 

Take “The Interceptor”, a top 10 movie on Netflix right now, as an example. If movies used to be 90% entertainment and 10% politics, “The Interceptor” is 50% entertainment and 50% politics. I could not go 5 minutes without coming across an obvious jab at the American Right. And the obvious jab was not featuring a female actor as the lead protagonist; representation in casts is an example of subtle political expression, which is inevitable and oftentimes needed. The obvious jabs were when the lines coming out of the character’s mouth were indistinguishable from the lines I hear from political pundits. And I know I am not the only one to complain: “The Interceptor” received a whopping 19% on Rotten Tomatoes.  

Importantly, there is a difference between having more women play lead roles and having a movie imitate a 1 hour 40-minute talk show produced on a Hollywood set. There is a clear dividing line between movies that contain subtle expressions of values and movies that are being produced to fuel a cultural arms race that threatens to consume every part of American society.

I am not naively advocating for a world in which our movies are milquetoast, feel good sessions that do not reflect the world we live in. Rather, I am sticking up for everyone that simply wants to watch a movie and not have to feel like they just sat through a political rally.    

Elsa Pataky as Captain J. J. Collins in The Interceptor, 2022.

And the tribal entertainers are not just contained to the Left. The Daily Wire is also turning a profit by producing movies that serve as propaganda for the American Right. For example, “Run Hide Fight” is an obvious jab at those on the Left who believe that guns have no place in America. What’s more, The Daily Wire makes no attempt to even conceal the overt political goal of the movie.

To those that see entertainment as a space to fight their culture wars, stop. The push from the temperamentally extreme Left and Right to turn every aspect of society into their political octagon will backfire. It will lead to more political apathy and disengagement amongst everyday Americans. It will further divide American society. And it will allow the political elite to continue profiting off our divides.

In terms of apathy, the data on an increasingly apathetic populace is clear: More In Common’s Hidden Tribe report found that the “exhausted majority” represents the largest group of Americans. Americans are frustrated by division, tribalism, and toxic rhetoric, and they want politicians to focus on problems instead of culture wars. By turning entertainment into a political battleground, the political elite are taking away one of the few remaining escapes from politics. That will further exhaust Americans who are giving up on the political process. 

Second, tribal entertainers who believe political movies are an important way to convert Americans to their cause fail to understand basic psychology. Thousands of experiments have confirmed that being confronted by rational arguments and appeals that challenge one’s beliefs will not change their mind. In fact, being constantly shown narratives that challenge your core beliefs will only harden your beliefs and make you more resistant. Not only is tribal entertainment making people more apathetic, but it is hardening Americans’ views to their respective causes, furthering divides across cultural lines at a time when Americans desperately need common narratives.

Finally, the profit incentive to produce movies that traffic in culture wars is significant.

We must acknowledge that the tribal elites on the Left and Right are not just innocent ideological purists; like the rest of us, they are at least partially driven by profit. As humans, we like choosing sides. We like buying products and stickers that show our support for our teams. And we will buy experiences that make us feel safe in our echo chambers. Perhaps, this is the most substantial reason to be skeptical of our modern entertainment. Even if we believe it should strongly reflect what we believe, we must be honest about the money that is made from waging our culture wars.

While it is true that movies have always subtly expressed our values, we must be very quick to challenge anyone that turns our movies into their political battleground. Because it will not just stop at movies. Tribalist entertainment is only one small part of the broader Left and Right who are marching on every institution in American society. Yes, our culture cannot and should not be divorced from our politics. Yes, our movies serve as important mechanisms for highlighting ideas and challenging society. And yes, we can go too far.

After all, there should be a clear difference between attending a political rally and watching a movie.

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Rehm Maham

“Who are your people?

“I don’t have people, I’m alone.”


These three lines from the underrated film Solo: A Star Wars Story are meant to illustrate how Han gets his name, but they also demonstrate something more, that for someone to be complete they must have a people, somewhere they belong. We need somewhere we are known, feel like ourselves, and know others as deeply as they know us.

Solo makes this point about family and Han’s lack of one. I certainly find my family to be an important place I belong, but belonging to a family isn’t enough. Unfortunately, the civic clubs, volunteer organizations, and even bowling leagues many Americans used to belong to are now few and far between.

Alden Ehrenreich as young Han Solo in the Star Wards film: Solo

This trend toward the degradation of civic life is one written about by Dr. Robert Putnam more than 25 years ago in his seminal article “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital,” Putnam identifies this trend as dating back almost 50 years now and our society is worse for it. He writes that this degradation will damage institutions and our civic culture, making us less able to talk to each other especially when we disagree. 

Serving on a local board, in a PTA, at a Rotary Club, a local bar association, or even just going to a weekly trivia league were all places we would inevitably meet people we disagreed with and still talk to them. Believe it or not, we could even talk about things other than what we disagreed about. Now, people are at fewer of these events. 

Our civic culture has declined and at the same time, we are less connected in our personal lives. In theory, the internet should make us more connected than ever before, but after a pandemic we spent online, people have fewer friends than before. In addition, Americans have fewer close friends than we did in 1990. We are 50 years into the degradation of civic culture and the cracks are starting to manifest more and more in our churches, our schools, and our politics.

This raises a simple question: Are we simply less able to connect with each other? I don’t think so. There are two places I have seen these civic and friendly connections besides my involvement with BridgeUSA. 

First, is my work in the past few years with Texas Boys State. At the core of this leadership and civics program for rising high school seniors is the organization of all 1,000+ participants into cities of no more than forty members. These cities are randomly assigned with statesmen, as we call them, being grouped with people from all across the state: El Paso to Beaumont, Austin County to the city of Austin. 

This could be the perfect crucible for discord and disagreement and yet that’s not what happens. Through the random act of assigning them to cities, we create a place the statesmen can align to in a program that emphasizes uncertainty, and the tribal instincts create strong bonds of friendships— some friendships I still hold to this day five years on. When people have something to unite around, even if they have nothing else in common with those they are around, they still form strong bonds of friendship.

So if we can still connect to others in these “tribes,” where else can we find them in today’s fractured world? Thus, the need for the second experience of mine: sports.

Now before you roll your eyes, let me make my point. Sports are not everything, and no friendship can be wholly based on sports, but they can be the starting point of a deeper relationship than fandom. For the last few years as a Louisiana State University student, just wearing an LSU shirt back home in Texas led me to meet many fellow “Tigers” and we had a point to start our conversations. 

Wearing an Astros shirt in D.C. may be a bit less hospitable, but even rivalries can be a jovial part of the tribal experience— so long as you don’t take it personally. Why do we rally around these teams? In any sport the players on the field are more than just a team trying to score arbitrary points; they are avatars of the tribe behind them representing hope and joy for their fans. Generally, these teams have diverse fan bases making these games one of the last places in civic society where most people will be around someone they disagree with, so we should leverage that!

We are wired for tribes. But, we need to make sure we find the right tribes to be a part of. This summer and fall I would propose a simple plan for all of us: go to a game with some friends, put on a t-shirt for the home team, and talk to someone you don’t know. After all, you’re already in the same tribe.

Ross Irwin

I can’t remember the first time I stood for the Flag. Most likely it was for some sporting event or at school. At that time, I had no idea why I was standing, no concept of a flag, or pride in one’s country, or even a country for that matter. But that moment was my first moment of patriotism, however unknowingly, by way of a salute to “the Flag”. 

The flag has been used to express both pride and disdain for America’s culture and policy. Both are displays of patriotism and are equally important in helping us to move the country forward.

For some, a flag is a colored piece of cloth. For others, it is the representation of the highest ideals of our country. It’s been used by Americans as a show of strength and pride; It’s been seen by migrants as a promise of freedom and opportunity. For some, it’s a symbol of inequality and oppression. In reality, it’s what you make of it. 

I stand for the flag because while America’s promise is not complete, the ideals of equal protection, fair representation, and egalitarian input in governance are some of the most honorable rules of government that humanity has ever seen. But that work is not done, and so most of all I stand for the aspirational America, and because I want to be part of the change that helps our country fulfill its ideals more completely. 

My mom has a different relationship with the flag. As a self-ascribed pacifist and socialist, she is generally opposed to “nationalism that puts the welfare of the inhabitants of one country above others.” As a high school teacher for over 30 years, each work day would begin with a school-wide pledge to the flag. She did stand, but did not recite the pledge. When I asked her about this, her answer was very nuanced. Essentially, she has trouble “pledging loyalty to a flag that has been or is being used to defend so much injustice and inequality”. 

Many other people I love would be aghast at that statement – taken aback by the full-throated critique of their beloved home. I think my mom’s decision is just as important, and American, as my own decision to stand.

As Flag Day approaches on June 14, our toxic partisanship machine will ramp up. Some will debate the “proper” way to observe and interpret the flag, but I believe standing and sitting are equally American. Sitting quietly through the Pledge of Allegiance and belting out the National Anthem are commensurate patriotic expressions, and I believe that a new America will be crafted in the tension between those beliefs.

America’s history with its flag is long and complicated. Since its establishment 245 years ago, the dichotomy between those that love the flag and those that hate it has only become more pronounced. In the 1960’s, Americans were simultaneously burning the flag in the street and planting it on the Moon. In 2016 Colin Kaepernick re-ignited this debate and Americans of all backgrounds weighed in on whether he should be fired or celebrated. 

But all of these people have pushed America to more accurately fulfill its promise of equality of opportunity and government by and for the People. The America we see today has been created by those that were disappointed with America and strove to make it better and those that loved America and wanted to push its principles further. 

In this debate I believe there is only one belief that is distinctly anti-American. Many Americans who think of themselves as first-rate patriots repeatedly yell and whine that those who do not “respect the flag” should be forcefully removed from this great country. That, in its essence, is far worse than not standing for the anthem or reciting the pledge. It is a denial of our first amendment rights and a refusal to see the diversity that has, and will continue to make America better. Our disagreements and our desire for better is the vehicle that has created the nation you see today.

Tomorrow’s America must be created together, by those that love the flag and those that hate it. It will take a recognition of what we’ve gotten right and what we’ve gotten wrong, when we’ve been the hero and when we were the villain. But it must be created together. Otherwise we will be left with an America modeled off of 1950’s nostalgia or an America devoid of the foundational principles that have allowed our improvement. So let’s join hands, whether they are glued to your heart in praise, or firmly at your side in disgust, so that we may create a new America, one that celebrates our differences and disagreements.