The nation sleeps, numb perhaps. I do not hear, as Walt Whitman heard, America singing. When my mother and father arrived as a young couple at the harbor of New York City in 1948, they left behind a torn continent ravished by Hitler, genocide, political arrogance and a world trying to return to itself without fear. My parents believed in our national commitment to justice and compassion. When America liberated Europe, the world began to slowly sigh in relief.
What will rouse us as a nation again; remind us of the core values we hold: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Abraham Lincoln said in a voice of confident hope at Gettysburg that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this earth.
George Washington, at his farewell address, praised the population of the United States for their unity of spirit in the face of “circumstance in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were libel to mislead; amidst appearances sometimes dubious.”
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Washington warned against the possibility of a despot who “turns his power to the purpose of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.”
I have worked with arrogate administrators in my 40-year career in education who, if challenged with facts and research, lashed out, afraid that their ignorance would be exposed. In self-preservation they pointed fingers at others, deflected the truth, postponed decisions, never smiled, blamed perceived enemies and claimed they would guide everyone to truth and success.
At the moment, there is a perception that we are a broken nation. Our churches disappointed us, our political parties divided us, our banks deceived us and industry abandoned us. Even Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn knew the problem: “What’s the use you learning to do right when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong.”
When Thomas Edison in his laboratory in Menlo Park created a vacuum in a small glass orb, he was able to create a light bulb and he illuminated the world. When the world creates a political vacuum, it is easily filled with light or filled with darkness.
The poet Carl Sandburg defined the light we need in America:
The people yes
The people will live on.
The leaning and blundering people will live on.
They will be tricked and sold and again sold
And go back to the nourishing earth for root holds,
The people so peculiar in renewal and comeback,
You can’t laugh off their capacity to take it.
We can take it. We can return to the America we all want. We need to make a comeback as a nation, not in the billfolds of corporate greed, not in the repetitious voice of fear mongering and arrogance, but in a union that has been illusive these past many years. We, as a nation, are in a state of mourning for what was. We are, as Sandburg wrote, “In the darkness with a great bundle of grief,” but then he wrote “the people march.”
Where do we march? Across the bridge at Concord. Where do we march? To Gettysburg. Where do we march? To the Battle of the Bulge or to Selma. We march to the Constitution and to the Declaration of Independence: equality, justice, empathy.
We do not march to the lights emanating from the White House but toward the lights of who we are as people that illuminates our house, not the house of a pretender.
Christopher de Vinck is the author of “The Power of the Powerless.”
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