Monday, July 4, 2016

The Ministry of Paine

"You know that flag flying over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone.
Who we are, what we'll do and what we won't." 
- Bruce Springsteen 

America celebrates its 240th birthday today.  Happy Birthday to us.  Right?  Today is the first Monday of July, which means that tomorrow is the first Tuesday following July's first Monday. Approximately four months from now, on November 8, which is the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November, we the people of these United States shall elect a new President.  Barring something heretofore unforeseen occurring at one or both of the upcoming Conventions, the choice shall be between two candidates who are equally unpalatable to a sizable percentage of the electorate. 

An election to fill what it arguably the most important leadership position not just in this country but in the world has been reduced to a discussion of which choice is the "least worst" rather than the "best".  Ask not how we arrived at this moment in our history.  Rather, look at your reflection in the mirror as well as the faces of those with whom you interact on a day in, day out basis and do something that we the people of these United States are loathe to do in this, the 21st Century:  Accept responsibility for it.   Generally speaking, all of us has had a hand in this - albeit some at a level that dwarfs that of many of the rest of us.  Whether through action or through passivity, however, our Ship of State is sailing the course upon which we have steered it.  

"These are the times that try men's souls."  So wrote Thomas Paine two hundred and forty years ago, referring to the times in which America was born.  His words may be almost a quarter of a millennium old but he makes a point as prescient as if he had written them this morning.  Unless one's postal code is Utopia, then one has lived at least a portion of one's life in times that try men's souls (and women's souls as well).  America's Republic is a political organism that always looks better when viewed through the rear-view mirror of history than it does as it is being experienced in real-time.  

We are the nation of The Greatest Generation, The Great Society, and The Summer of Love.  We are, however, also the nation of The McCarthy Hearings, Mississippi Burning, and Watergate.  We are not merely the nation of ticker-tape parades up the Canyon of Heroes.  Such events are as much a part of our history as are riots that erupted across the country in Watts, Detroit, and Newark.  We are Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the pastoral home of the Little League World Series.  We are also Ferguson, Missouri, which not too terribly long ago represented the nadir of our national third rail, race relations.  

The Poet Laureate of Freehold once implored us to, "Show a little faith, there's magic in the night." Thus far, through two hundred and forty years of our American Experiment, regardless of the corner into which we have painted ourselves, we have been able to conjure up enough of the night's magic to eradicate ourselves.   This November, the presumptive nominees atop the national tickets are - for my appetite at least - decidedly unappetizing.  This is not, however, the first time in our history we have been forced to consider between two unappealing alternatives.  Even in these most trying of times, I have a little faith - in the rapidly-aging man whose face stares back at me in the bathroom mirror every morning and in a representative cross-section of the rest of us - that we shall rise above these limited choices.  We must endure them, survive them, and learn from what it was that permitted them to be thrust upon us.  We cannot allow them to define us. 

We owe it to those who came before us.  We owe it to those who shall come after us.  We owe it to ourselves.  

We owe it to that flag flying over the courthouse...

...long may it wave.


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