Our view: We’re see­ing Amer­ica at its finest


For those out­side its path, the most en­dur­ing mem­o­ries of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey could be the images of Amer­ica as most Amer­i­cans like to think of it: A black deputy sher­iff wad­ing through flood­wa­ters with a white child in each arm; a white SWAT of­fi­cer, also wad­ing through flood­wa­ters, car­ry­ing a Viet­namese Amer­i­can cradling her sleep­ing baby; three Asian and His­panic con­sta­bles, knee-deep in wa­ter, car­ry­ing an el­derly woman in a wheel­chair.

Our na­tional nar­ra­tive, the ori­gin story that is our per­ma­nent legacy, is our di­ver­sity.

This is a gift we too of­ten ei­ther take for granted or lose sight of in heated ar­gu­ments over what to do about im­mi­gra­tion or Con­fed­er­ate stat­ues. Yet it is alive and well in Houston and, one hopes, across Amer­ica.

One Har­vey photo af­ter an­other shows res­cue teams made up of black, white, His­panic and Asian re­spon­ders, help­ing peo­ple of all races. Pets and live­stock, too. The res­cuers are do­ing what is ur­gent in the mo­ment and no doubt think noth­ing of it. Yet these images very much be­lie the harsh, di­vi­sive pol­i­tics that Don­ald Trump rode to the White House and now prac­tices from the Oval Of­fice. See­ing them is a much needed re­minder: This is who we are.

Ad­ver­sity has a way of bring­ing peo­ple to­gether. In 2005, 15 days af­ter Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina slammed the Gulf Coast, a pho­tog­ra­pher fol­low­ing a search and res­cue team from Or­ange County, Calif., took a shot of three team mem­bers — two white peo­ple and, in the cen­ter of the iconic tableau, a burly His­panic for­mer Navy medic — gen­tly car­ry­ing an ema­ci­ated black man from a home that two ear­lier teams had marked empty.

Some who helped that day saw the scene as a metaphor for gov­ern­ment fail­ures. But Richard Ven­tura, lo­gis­tics manager of the res­cue team, looked at it and saw racial har­mony.

The im­per­a­tives of dis­as­ter re­sponse are not dis­sim­i­lar to the im­per­a­tives of bat­tle, and they bring to mind what De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis told a group of U.S. troops in a video posted on Face­book last week, af­ter the white su­prem­a­cist protest in Char­lottesville, Va., and Pres­i­dent Trump’s dis­turb­ing re­sponses.

“You’re a great ex­am­ple for our coun­try right now. It’s got some prob­lems. You know it, and I know it,” Mat­tis said. “You just hold the line un­til our coun­try gets back to un­der­stand­ing and re­spect­ing each other, and show­ing it and be­ing friendly to one an­other.” He added that Amer­ica has two pow­ers: in­tim­i­da­tion, “that’s you,” and in­spi­ra­tion, “and we’ll get the power of in­spi­ra­tion back.”

He also re­minded them that “we’re so dog­gone lucky to be Amer­i­cans.”

Yes. We are.

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