“It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!” The narrator’s voice comes in deep and dramatic, “Yes, it’s Superman!”
The audio sounds scratchy today and the black and white film is grainy on the screen. As a boy, I remember hearing those words echo through the house and racing to plop down in front of the T.V. to watch Superman battle bad guys, fighting a “never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.”
Like me, a whole generation of Americans grew up on this black and white version of Superman and “truth, justice, and the American way.” (Today’s generation can google it to see what I’m talking about!) Less than a hundred years earlier, in 1892, a Baptist minister phrased it as “one Nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” — words we recite, with hands over hearts, to this day.
However it is phrased, these principles of truth, liberty, and justice have formed the underpinning of our national identity. They have defined us as a nation. They have driven us forward even through the darkest days.
Today, we need these principles more than ever. The year 2017 was bitterly polarizing for many Americans. The divisiveness of the political rhetoric was beyond anything I’ve seen in recent memory — with both sides at fault on different occasions. The most sobering reality, though, is that while some prefer to square off and swing punches across party lines, our adversaries across the globe are not so easily distracted.
As a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I see evidence of this chilling reality every day — nowhere more starkly than with the ongoing Russia investigations. With Russia’s well-known intent to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, they appear to have orchestrated a textbook “Heads I win; tails you lose” strategy. Regardless of the outcome of the election, they ensured they “won” the game because public faith in the democratic process could be undermined, while significant American energy, resources, and political capital would be tied up in investigations. The success of Russia’s strategy can be seen simply by looking at the breaking headlines of the past year: we are deeply divided and virtually half the country questions the legitimacy of our elected government.
To me, the way forward is about as black and white as the 1960’s Superman: we must find the facts, and do so thoroughly and swiftly. We must deal with any illegal leaks. We must address any wrongdoing, at any level of government, and do so openly and honestly. We must make it clear that “We the People,” through our elected representatives, have oversight over government agencies like the FBI and CIA – not the other way around. Congressional subpoenas cannot be ignored or refused. Any abuse of authority, especially for political gain or harm, has no place in the American people’s government.
Unfortunately, there are those who seem more interested in driving a political narrative than seeking the facts and completing the investigations, and ensuring truth and justice are served. One should never begin an investigation by determining the conclusions first, and then trying to force a narrative to fit that end. In a quest to oppose the president, there are those who continue to parade a myriad of concerns and unproven opinions. Concerns are concerns, not facts. Opinions are opinions, not facts. Only facts are facts. Let’s find them, address them, and then let’s move forward. Then we can focus wholeheartedly on securing our nation and safeguarding our democratic process while pushing ahead with growing a robust economy, spending wisely while cutting waste, and kickstarting job creation and innovation.
Ultimately, we cannot afford to lose focus on the notion that our true adversaries should not be Americans on the other side of the aisle, but rather the nations and non-state actors across the globe that are actively working to undermine our security and democracy. We must be united and vigilant to defend against those threats.
Otherwise, the question becomes: have we forgotten who our true enemies are and have we forgotten who we are? With our freedom, comes responsibility. As Saint Pope John Paul II once said to an American audience, “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”
As we enter a new year, our country would do well to recommit to uniting around our founding principles. Amidst the disagreements and policy debates that are part of our political process, let us not lose sight of our national identity — for it will guide us forward. Truth and justice. That’s the American way.
This column originally appeared in the Washington Exmainer for national syndication.