Memorial Day and Bipartisanship

This is a day to begin to act on the sense of connection we feel to others–to actually unite through service

There is a special power in Memorial Day to bring us together as Americans in these turbulent times. Ultimately, it is a day to not merely talk and think about what unites us at the deepest level. It’s a day to begin to act on the sense of connection we feel to others–to unite through service and common purpose.

This page seeks to highlight current examples of American bipartisanship in action, with each instance either directly or indirectly connected to Memorial Day. After all, concrete examples of true bipartisan service are so important. They are templates and take off points. They help us relearn the basic lessons of service.

Just as we mourn our fallen service members together and honor their legacy together, so too can we still find ways to work constructively together. Through every public service from the heart, we can make things better for our communities and each other.

I. Cleaning a Wall Together

We begin with a journalistic account of the veterans in U.S. Congress who unite yearly on Memorial Day at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C.:

Memorial Day and Bipartisanship

II. Approving Military Aid Together

A majority of Americans say they want more civility in public discourse and public outcomes that have bipartisan support. Achieving these things starts with remembering that we never really stop learning. Throughout life we continue to engage with a variety of subjects that inform our thought processes and decision making. Americans confronting the most controversial issues of the day have a lot to teach each other and even more to learn. In particular, we have a wealth of objective historical facts to consider together.

This is precisely what happened in the lengthy, highly contentious battle that concluded April 20th, 2024 in the U.S. House of Representatives. The House passed a bill to send $60 billion in additional military aid to Ukraine. The bill passed along broad bipartisan lines with majority Republican as well as Democratic support. Speaker Mike Johnson courageously risked his House speakership just by bringing that bill to a vote.

Whether or not one supports the Ukraine aid package, there is no question that the actual history of American foreign military policy as it relates to Europe was a major part of what drove the final legislative policy decision. To get a sense of the history-based argument that won the day, listen to this November 2022 interview with former president George W. Bush at his institute in Dallas:

Note how President Bush reminds everyone of two historical facts. First, while isolationist impulses with regard to others’ struggle for freedom come and go in America, the struggle for freedom is a universal theme. Ongoing. Constant. Worldwide. Second, there is nothing in the American charter or in American history that supports isolationism. On the contrary, Bush argues, America is inherently a country that both engages with the rest of humanity in the cause of freedom and has a self-interest in doing so.

Bush concludes from these facts that it would be a mistake for America to shrink from the world stage in the case of the war in Ukraine. Bush supports his long-standing, moderate approach to the red-hot button issue of immigration in a similar way, with reference to the historical struggle for freedom.

History is the social science that systematically studies and documents past human events. As such, history has as much power and potential to help bridge any given issue divide as any discipline. We don’t have to be historians to understand basic historical facts, ideas and concepts. Historians do the professional work to apply, analyze, synthesize, evaluate and think originally about historical ideas and concepts. We can sort through their conclusions. We can ground our patriotism, and ultimately our politics, in the Constitution and a basic understanding of American and world history. By doing so, we can construct and maintain sturdy policy bridges across deep partisan divides.

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