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America faces its fourth existential crisis, and President-elect Biden will need to go big

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: January 17, 2021

Jeffrey A. Engel is a history professor and founding director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. He wrote this opinion column for The Dallas Morning News.

What is an American? More accurately, who? The question fuels our current political woes, drives Donald Trump’s second impeachment, and has sparked the most profound Constitutional crisis since 1868. It is a question we, and President-elect Joe Biden, must answer to move forward.

The answer shouldn’t be hard. Americans follow a particular creed based upon democratic rule, guided by our shared Constitution. Unlike other countries where bloodlines and birth determine one’s rights, anyone can be and become fully American as long as he or she abides by the rules. That’s what the civics books say.

Would that it were so easy. History’s guidance for how we get out of this mess isn’t easy, yet guidance exists, because we’ve been here before. The storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was not its first bloody encounter. Political violence is sadly routine in American history, even within those hallowed halls. Legislators have fought. Guns have been fired in protest and anger. Oh, and those who burned it in 1814 wore red, too. READ MORE