Dan Rather’s What Unites Us is a book of consummate steadiness in a world rolling among considerable waves. As a child of the 1960s, it was Rather whose voice I heard during my childhood and early adulthood. We always turned on the television news after dinner, and his reporting skill and calm voice were right there. That he has remained active in his profession for so many decades, and continues to be a voice of reason just makes me like him more.
Given this, it was a given that I’d read Rather’s latest book. I read his posts on Facebook, and often turn to News and Guts for a straight story in difficult times.
The book is a group of essays, which discuss both the United States today and the historical context of current events. Rather also tells some of his own life experiences, and they add depth to the essays.
The essays are grouped by categories: Freedom, Community, Exploration, Responsibility, and Character. Rather starts broadly and then moves down into the more personal topics with thoughts about how we as individuals can participate in our nation’s democracy.
Rather invokes the words of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his discussion of civil and voting rights. He also doesn’t let today’s officials off the hook and falsely declare that we’ve moved past the need for vigilance. Instead, Rather says, “Those who seek to suppress voting today are either ignorant of the history or are, as I suspect is more often the case, malevolently choosing to ignore it.”
His discussion of community includes immigration, inclusion and our ongoing national debate. And yet Rather still brings it to the personal level, reminding us that “Empathy is not only a personal feeling; it can be a potent force for political and social change. And thus the suppression or denial of empathy is a deliberate part of a cynical political calculus.”
Of course, as a bibliophage, I loved his discussion of books, libraries, and even encyclopedias. Like Rather, my family used our local library and own encyclopedia to learn more about a wide variety of topics. In a world of tablet and screens, Rather sounds wise to me when he says, “We need to continue to teach our children how to read, not just to sound out words, but also to read deeply and thoroughly. This must start early with the understanding that books are important.”
Rather never gives our elected officials a pass, but he also clearly communicates his faith in each individual American. What could have been a depressing book about just how far we’ve slid off the road is actually inspiring in its scope. Dan Rather reminds us that we all can be involved in our country and our world. He believes, and makes me believe, that we will find strength in our commonality, not in our differences.