Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Lament for the Republic

Dear old Republic
dream of the philosophes, utopia made of compromise,
how I miss you!
You gave me hope, a dream I could cultivate,
An insignia, a sign towards the future.
I nursed on you, I grew in you,
I wriggled around your warm cocoon.
But now as I sit, anxious for tomorrow,
I remember the betrayals, the lapses, the cruelties.
Your Dred Scotts and Fort Sumters,
The Bay of Pigs, Guadalupe Hidalgo—
A Trail of Tears, a rebuff to Ms. Adams,
Tuskeegee, zoot suits, the Chicago Eight,
Fred Thompson, Haymarket, Watergate.

The Republic is gone—
It died long ago.
Now it’s out in the open,
Now everyone knows.
I was told as a boy, by my dad,
“America is great!”
I agreed; there was no doubt.
But as I learned more and shaped my own mind
I saw some of the cracks, some of the flaws,
Some of the lies.
Yet I know, those dead white men,
Many who would abhor a black man as president
Or a woman, or a Catholic, a Mormon, a Texan, a guy who grew up poor,
Even though those same hypocrites
Would fear what we’ve become,
In their sincerest dreams, envisioned a better place,
Regardless of our flaws and our differences,
They knew the dangers of opening the gates
To the rabble, the unpropertied, the uneducated,
Some at least, were still able to concede the possibility,
That it might work.
Maybe we are not perfect—but we can try.
Maybe the irony was lost on them (maybe not) that
When they claimed, “All men are created equal,”
They didn’t see the myopia of using the word, “men.”
Or the hypocrisy of slaveowners including, “All men,” in that phrase,
But does that matter when the record can be corrected within the same framework?

But the damage has been done.
It’s no use pretending our original sins have yet to be tamed.
It does no one any good to act as if we are still a Republic.
We have been trapped by the worst foe of all—success.
We can ignore our bigotry and hatred by pointing to our global dominance.
We can delude ourselves into thinking we are all autonomous citizens with inviolable property rights, guarantees against surveillance without warrant, limits on government encroachment.

But rightly or wrongly, we’re down the path of Empire.
--were we built for this?
--no, not exactly
We must reshape our structures
--chip away at the walls
--weaken the checks
--put the thumb on the scale
You can’t rule the world with a nation of laws, and justice, and compromise
You must be strong and firm and unswerving in your goals.
You must not allow critics to dampen your dive.
And you must always remember to give people dreams
Of living a safe and secure life without crime or conflict or offense
Please don’t think at all, we’ll take care of you, don’t worry.

And now we’ve come to this.
Are the hysterics justified?  Is it all too much?
Does it even matter anymore?

I can tell you this:
The Republic may be gone, but the dream doesn’t have to die
We can get along
We don’t have to collide
We’ll have to be open to compromise and change
We’ll have to live with those we don’t like or consider our own
If we truly are a force for the good
We can’t go back to hating each other or killing
Maybe it’s not the best of times
But we don’t have to, in fear and anger, vote for the worst of times.

There must be a way to save what we’ve got
To keep the dream, the myths, the heroes
To keep the dream that Jefferson had;
That gave Lincoln hope, Benito Juarez, Simon Bolivar,
The dream that marched with Martin Luther King, and Ira Hayes
--and my fathers

I know I get maudlin
I know I’m old fashioned
But we all want the same things
And you can’t turn back the clock to move forward.

--Nov. 7, 2016