Michael D. Tanner
Rick Best was a 53-year-old Republican who had unsuccessfully
run for county commissioner on a conservative platform that
stressed his opposition to tax increases and excessive spending. He
was a 23-year army veteran who had served tours in both Iraq and
Afghanistan. And he was married with three teenage sons and a
Taliesin Namkai-Meche was Best’s political opposite, a
23-year-old liberal environmentalist. He graduated from Reed
College just last year, and was working for Cadmus Group, a
consulting firm that stressed the importance of “green energy,”
among other things. He had just bought his first house.
Micah David-Cole Fletcher, just 21, struggled with autism. He
worked at a pizza shop while attending Portland State University.
In his free time, he wrote poems, including one on tolerance that
had won a local contest.
They put themselves in
harm’s way to defend the dignity and safety of two complete
strangers. What could be greater than that?
These three men couldn’t have been more different. They didn’t
know each other, and, under other circumstances, probably would
never have met. Yet, last week, all three of them intervened to
protect two teenage Muslim girls from a knife-wielding racist who
accosted them on Portland’s light-rail system. Best and
Namkai-Meche were killed by the attacker, while Fletcher was badly
Anyone looking for American exceptionalism need look no farther
than the courage of these three men.
>It is easy to focus on the things that divide us right now.
And there is no doubt that we are divided. There is a climate of
hate, intolerance, and intimidation that infects both sides of the
political debate. On one side, mobs resort to violence to silence
speakers with whom they disagree. On the other, the denizens of the
alt-right and their fellow travelers spew the worst kind of bigoted
filth. In a time of fear, it is far too easy for people to retreat
into a primitive tribalism that can be used as an excuse for the
most inexcusable behavior. When a professor is beaten in Vermont
for inviting a controversial speaker to campus, or others cheer the
assault of a reporter in Montana, it is the climate is ripe for
someone such as the Portland attacker.
On social media and in comment sections, the incivility that has
come to characterize so much of our political discourse is on full
display. Terms such as “traitor” and “fascist” are tossed around
indiscriminately. Entire religions are denigrated. Racial slurs are
tolerated or even condoned as a check on political correctness run
These agents of hate are not America. America is the millions of
people from across the political spectrum who practice charity,
tolerance, and basic decency every day. America is all those who
stand up for what is right, even when it is not popular. America is
about a Republican, a Democrat, and an autistic poet putting their
lives on the line to protect young women from a different faith and
culture simply because it is the right thing to do. You want
diversity and tolerance? We just saw it.
Yes, this country is imperfect. An honest look at our history
shows that we have often treated African Americans, Latinos, women,
gays, and other minorities abhorrently. Yet, no country has
peacefully come so far so fast from such an ugly past. It is the
character of the American people that has helped transform the
political and legal landscape to overcome the old bigotries. Full
equality may still be aspirational, but it is part of the American
character to have such aspirations.
We hear a lot these days about the need to “make America great
again.” But America is already great – and so long as we continue
to produce men such as Rick Best, Taliesin Namkai-Meche, and Micah
Fletcher, it always will be.
Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author
of Going for Broke: Deficits, Debt, and the Entitlement
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