In 2012, America struggled through a process of rediscovery. Are we a nation united or a loose collection of conflicting individuals? Do we find strength in our commonality or in our divisions?
The Associated Press selected the top stories of the year, and each one reflects the nation’s effort to understand its evolving views on mutual dependence and personal freedom.
The No. 1 story was the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
There could be no truer symbol of the American tension between individualism and unity. In the aftermath of the shooting, every town was Newtown. Every parent in America felt overwhelming grief.
All Americans looked for a way to prevent mass shootings, several of which took place in 2012.
The most effective solutions, though, require government action. Gun control requires the sacrifice of individual freedom. Newtown brought us together as a nation, then tore us apart.
Presidential elections always highlight our differences, and the 2012 election — AP’s No. 2 story — did so more than most. President Barack Obama focused on the interdependence of Americans and a history filled with accomplishments that came through united effort. Challenger Mitt Romney focused on individualism, stressing the advances that come with unfettered capitalism. Obama won the election, but the results showed a nation divided.
The No. 3 story was superstorm Sandy, which devastated the Eastern Seaboard. The natural disaster reminded Alabamians of their reliance upon the generosity of a nation after the April 27, 2011, tornadoes. Sandy was a symbol of the power of American unity and the potential effectiveness of government when confronting disaster.
The tension between unity and individualism flared in the No. 4 story, which was the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act. The law requires most Americans to purchase health insurance — an assault, some believe, on individual liberty — but will provide millions of Americans with access to health care.
Despite having 681,000 uninsured citizens, Alabama officials continue to fight it at every turn.
The pessimistic view is that 2012 was a year in which Americans showed irresolvable differences in their views on the proper balance between individualism and unity.
Another view — more accurate, we hope — is that Americans are just stumbling their way to an acceptable balance. The year that ends today was a painful step toward perfecting a nation that finds its strength in the unity of individuals.
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