By General Stanley McChrystal, writing for The Atlantic
In 1838, a 28-year-old Abraham Lincoln declared that the greatest threat facing America comes not from a foreign invader:
If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
The thought that Americans, themselves, may destroy the ideals for which so many have sacrificed is sobering. Trust among Americans is at its lowest levels in generations, and stereotyping and prejudice have become substitutes for knowing and understanding one another as individuals.
How Americans restore trust may be an existential question for their country, then, but it’s ultimately a practical one: What U.S. society needs to answer it in the coming years aren’t lamentations but practical measures, especially among the emerging generations that will define America’s future.
Service may be at the heart of the answer.
A year of service has the power to bring young people together from different races, ethnicities, incomes, faiths, and political backgrounds to work on pressing problems facing U.S. society today. In the process, they can build empathy by getting to know each other around something positive—the shared work of participating in a democracy—as they shape their views of their country and the world.
The danger of inaction should be clear. Tensions and violence in cities across America are reminders of how quickly communities can erupt with an absence of social trust. Dallas, St. Paul, Baton Rouge, and Orlando, following on the heels of Ferguson, Baltimore, and Chicago illustrate a disheartening reality.
Political campaigns offer Americans an opportunity to adjust direction, reaffirm values, and recommit to the covenant that binds them together.
But politics can also summon the smaller side of America’s national character, offering final glimpses of desperately needed big ideas and real solutions before they go up in political smoke, disappearing in favor of what’s popular or easy.
As the presidential candidates head to their national conventions, they should advance ideas to help restore social trust in the United States—practical solutions, such as engaging young Americans in a year or more of national service…