By M. FRANCIS MIRRO
Students got a challenge from a legend Friday: keep hope alive in America.
Last Friday Dan Rather, former CBS reporter, news anchor, and author of the 2017 book, What Unites Us, visited the University at Albany campus.
Over the course of his more than 50 years as a reporter, Rather has born witness to some of the most central events in modern history: the Kennedy Assassination, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, Watergate and the resignation of Richard Nixon, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the 9/11 Terror Attacks and the United States invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
But in front of the crowd at SEFCU, Rather discussed something deeper: actors working to exploit America’s differences and pull us further apart.
“Those who seek to exploit our differences feel our unity is fragile,” said Rather. “I don’t believe it’s fragile but I do believe it’s frayed.”
Before he took the stage, Rather took a moment to talk with the Albany Student Press about his long career, his book and the current climate the country finds itself in.
“I believe the greatest threat to our country today,” Rather told the ASP, “is whether we can successfully resist the effort to exploit those differences”.
Rather spoke on the difference between patriotism and nationalism, a central theme of his book.
“Patriotism includes a certain amount of humility,” he said. “One loves their country, one is proud of their country, but you’re aware that the goal is to constantly be improving.”
Rather also expressed that a free press is vital and the Trump Administration is threatening that. He urged the reinstitution of civics lessons in the classroom and called climate change “a race against time” while decrying the current administration and its allies as “anti-science”.
“Make no mistake: these are perilous times,” said Rather. “The nation is in peril. But it has been in peril before.”
Rather joked that “somehow he doubted” President Trump had read his book, What Unites Us, a statement which was met with loud laughter.
But the tone shifted back to serious when Rather recounted his days reporting on war.
“I have seen things that, it may sound dramatic, but frankly no human should ever see.” Rather then described a scene with his family before he left to cover the war in Afghanistan:
“They told me that if I left, they knew I wasn’t going to come back,” said Rather. “Not every day in every way, but some days in some ways, danger is my business.”
Rather said the presence of foreign powers in the current scandals trouble him more than the crimes that forced Nixon to resign for Watergate. He added that Congress probably had enough evidence to launch an impeachment inquiry.
Rather called himself “an optimist by nature and experience” and said that he had confidence that “more times than not the American people will do the right thing”
But, he cautioned that optimism requires action, and action geared towards pushing the country and all its potential in the right direction. It means not being complacent. It means acting.
“This may be a long, dark valley,” Rather said. “But I believe we can and will emerge from it as good if not even better.”
When asked what he wanted to say to the students here at UAlbany and the next generation of Americans, Rather immediately responded, “Keep hope alive.”