Sunday, November 5, 2017
“What Unites Us” - a book recommendation
by Dan Rather. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 2017. $23.00.
Perhaps it is a function of being halfway through one’s sixties that one looks back and nostalgically thinks things were “better.” Growing up (to the extent I did grow up) in the latter half of the twentieth century, a voice that accompanied me and informed me was that of CBS newsman Dan Rather. Like Cronkite before him, Mr. Rather was, to me, a trusted figure that told the story of our days with integrity and courage. His demise at CBS came from his “60 Minutes II” reportage of former President Bush’s time with the Texas Air National Guard. Rather’s work, as it turned out was true, but CBS had allowed the entertainment side of the business and the advertising revenue it generated to influence the news division. Corporate CBS decided that their anchor’s story leapt from the sphere of news to the sphere of the political, and BOOM! He was gone. With him, some say, went the credibility of the news division.
Love him or hate him, Dan Rather has held a unique position in our American culture for over 60 years. From the early days of chasing hurricanes, to being the man on the ground in Dallas in November of 1963, to field reports from Vietnam and an earthquake ravaged Mexico City, this guy has seen a lot, learned a lot, reported a lot and grown.
In his recently published book “What Unites Us,” Mr. Rather views his career and our nation through the discrete lenses of Freedom, Community, Exploration, Responsibility and Character. Essays under each banner speak to the issues and problems of our yesteryears and the means by which we, as citizens and neighbors, pulled together to address them. The impoverished Houston neighborhood into which he was born – the same neighborhood my mother grew up in, ten years prior to Danny – cared for the families of the Great Depression’s unemployed or under-employed. No fingers pointed, no aspersions cast; it was just what you did. Children of that age grew to bring us Social Security, desegregated schools, Medicare, the GI Bill and countless other far reaching programs designed to ensure that fewer Americans are left behind; that some level of opportunity exists for all.
In his collection of 15 essays, Rather shares his singular view of what we built last century and what might be at stake should it crumble. To preserve who we are, he addresses the necessity of the vote and of voting rights, the importance of debate and dissent, the role of the press and the courage demanded by circumstance to ensure that our arts, science and educational communities – foundations of both our democracy and our leadership in the world – don’t founder under the weight of half-truths, binary thought and simple, convenient lies.
Daunting times we live in. Yet, Dan Rather’s voice is both reassuring and optimistic. We’ve been through tough times before. We’ve been divided before. We’ve hungered and bled and cursed one another before, but we’ve always seemed to venture past discrimination or disenfranchisement or dissatisfaction, and pieced together a better future for ourselves.
Currently, I don’t like the divisive direction in which our nation is headed.
But after reading Rather’s book, I am confident that we can fix it, and I’m glad his voice is still active.
See your local independent bookseller.
Church of the Open Road Press