An ad promoting a trip to Glacier National Park

Bruce Springsteen is a hero of mine.

He’s been my mentor, copilot and running buddy in teaching U.S. history and U.S. government classes for 26 years.

The goal of a good class is to be what Springsteen once described as a good concert: “part circus, part dance party, part tent revival, part political rally.”

Beyond that, on a personal level his songs have brought me such comfort, hope, sustenance and gentle exhortation to do better when I so often fall short of the mark.

After I watched Springsteen’s Super Bowl jeep ad, I loved it so much that I sent a link to everyone I know.

Given my own biases and the unifying tone and goal of the ad, I can’t believe it caused so much controversy.

On the left, critics denounced it as an expression of Christian nationalism. From the right, partisans didn’t want to hear anything about unity from a liberal.

And then Jeep itself pulled the ad when it became known that Springsteen got a DWI in November.

Of course, a DWI isn’t good. Those of us who try to “influence” in any way hurt our ethos when we screw up.

Yet, we must remember that Springsteen, like the rest of us, is a hypocrite and a sinner – a fact he regularly acknowledges in his lyrics: “When I look at myself, I don’t see the man I wanted to be.”

But it’s often said that hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue. We should all honor and strive for the good, decent, sacred, hopeful and, in this context, unifying despite, and even because of, our shortcomings.

For most of his career, Springsteen’s songs have been articulating what we as a people are trying to be, and how we fall short.

The spirit and the language of the Jeep ad is completely consistent with what he’s been saying for four decades.

One of my early favorite Springsteen songs was “Reason to Believe,” about decent people who fall on hard times. In the chorus, Springsteen is amazed that “still at the end of every hard-earned day people find some reason to believe.”

“The River” offers a more prophetic, worrisome line: “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?”

Springsteen, who grew up in the Rust Belt and studied the writings of John Steinbeck, has long known how to speak “American” to fans of all political leanings.

In the ad, Bruce Springsteen meant it when he said, “The very dirt we stand on is common ground.” How American.

He wasn’t trying to sell Jeeps or records; his whole soul was in it. He was exhorting the nation to hear our better angels, to strive to be, as the ad says, the reunited States of America.

The ad is filled with cultural symbols that are traditionally unifying: the flag, the heartland, church, panoramic western vistas, old cowboy boots and cowboy hats, and yes, Jeeps.

A flawed man exhorted a flawed and broken nation to try to do better. That’s the essence of our faith in our country – that ordinary people can do extraordinary things, especially when we remember that we’re all in this together.

To borrow more Springsteen lyrics, saints and sinners, winners and losers, whores and gamblers, lost souls, all aboard. Together.

We can, should and must reunite in order to make any headway resolving the issues of our time. Our greatest political leaders understood this.

Lyndon Johnson’s favorite Bible verse was Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let us reason together.”

Abraham Lincoln worked for union prior to abolition, and his greatest speeches were political sermons which imparted meaning to the profound, astounding common suffering of each side in the Civil War.

Martin Luther King always used his opponents’ faith in scripture and our nation’s founding documents to try to win them over.

Get those on the other side nodding their head before you make your case.

Every morning, Springsteen takes me to work.

I know each day at school will bring its share of frustration that I’ve got to overcome if I’m going to be the man I want to be that day. So, here’s the song I play:

Bring on your wrecking ball!
Bring on your wrecking ball!
Come on and take your best shot
Let me see what you got
Bring on your wrecking ball!

So, for the moment, let the critics take their best shot.

The cynical, the partisan and the judgmental are going to do their thing; let’s see what they got. Nevertheless, the truth of the ad holds firm.

May we have faith that the ties that bind us, for all our faults, fears and shortcomings are ultimately stronger than the walls others build to try to divide us.

Thanks to “the Boss” for once more putting his faith in the goodwill and decency of the American people.

And here’s to the hope that the moral arc of this debate, and of our larger national conversation, will eventually bend towards unity and justice.

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