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.