Remember the Titans was released this week 18 years ago, September 23rd, 2000. It is one of my favorite movies of all time, and the only movie I’ve ever watched literally back to back once when I was sick. Remember the Titans teaches an important lesson about racism, but even more broadly, an important lesson about humanity. I think it’s a lesson for us to remember this week.
The last few weeks have been particularly disheartening for me as I’ve watched the Kavanaugh hearing take place. Over the last few years America has become increasingly polarized with everyone taking “sides” – over race, income, life, gender – you name it. The intolerance, vitriol, and flat-out hatred for those who believe differently is staggering. Running one another out of restaurants, stealing property, openly slandering, throwing beverages in another person’s face, harassment and death threats - these are activities reminiscent of behavior leading to the Civil Rights movement.
Skin color is not the defining line today, but rather, it is the political party with whom you align yourself. While the issues we face are not exactly the same as in the 1960s, the cultural atmosphere and polarization of the American people are identical, and today we find ourselves at a tipping point. We no longer recognize our political opponents as fellow humans but only as “the other side”, or “evil”, or “deplorable”. We don’t recognize them as men and women with children and spouses and careers and dreams, but only the side we need to beat - not even beat anymore, but destroy. Every issue is viewed through the language of winning and losing, and winning is the only thing some people care about.
As Americans we should be motivated to stand for what’s right, for justice, for liberty, for kindness, for decency, for truth, and for civility. Instead, justice doesn’t matter as long as we win; truth doesn’t matter, as long as we win; civility doesn’t matter AS. LONG. AS. WE. WIN. - win at all costs, and the consequences – well – who cares. The destruction of character, a career, or a life is a meaningless casualty of war.
In the history of American politics, Americans have always had disparate opinions; it’s a quality that has made America great. We have been a people with different ideas and beliefs regarding how to accomplish certain goals, but despite our differences, we have generally desired the same basic American ideals - justice, based on truth, and common decency. What happened to truth and what happened to common decency? They don’t seem to exist anymore in the effort to win. If ideology cannot win in the marketplace of ideas, then there are people who are willing to resort to underhanded tactics and manipulation in order to win at any cost.
Coach Boone said it best in Remember the Titans when he ran his team through the rain in the early morning to a neighboring field:
“This is where they fought the battle of Gettysburg. Fifty thousand men died right here on this field, fighting the same fight that we are still fighting among ourselves today. This green field right here, painted red, bubblin’ with the blood of young boys. Smoke and hot lead pouring right through their bodies. Listen to their souls, men. I killed my brother with malice in my heart. Hatred destroyed my family. You listen, and you take a lesson from the dead. If we don’t come together right now on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed, just like they were. I don’t care if you like each other or not, but you will respect each other. And maybe... I don’t know, maybe we’ll learn to play this game like men.”
Today, we leave our political battlefield bubbling with the blood of assassinated character and painted red with hate and malice in our hearts. Friends, fellow Americans, we must come together. We don’t have to agree, and we don’t have to like one another, but we must set aside our desire to win with unprincipled schemes and fight together for the same things – against a common enemy, those who want to destroy our way of life, including civility and mutual respect, and for justice and liberty for all - as true men and women.