It’s snowing today in New Jersey. Just as it was snowing last week. And the week before. And the week before that. In fact it’s been snowing every week for the whole month. Sometimes twice. Here’s my picnic table, covered with plastic on my deck, still uncovered for the season because I don’t remember the last time I saw sun. On the East Coast, we’ve had four Nor’easters, three in the last two weeks. Yesterday was the first day of spring, and two days ago, my husband absconded with these daffodils from the neighbor’s backyard. (So lovely, aren’t they? Everything illicit always is! )The yard should be full of them by now, but Spring seems to be on hiatus until nature gets done with it tantrum. Maybe its just getting back at us for ignoring its maintenance so long. Like cleaning up after ourselves when we take a dump on it, for not respecting it, for not putting our money where our drain pipe is. Makes me wonder what it looks like in Paris this spring, where the rest of the world seems so much more in accord.
The father of our country has been getting a bit of bad press lately. There’s been chatter going around that he’s no different from General Robert E. Lee, saying they both were Southerners, they both owned slaves, they both revolted against an oppressive government. The chatter says if you’re tearing down monuments of Gen. Lee, you should also be pulling down monuments of Washington, as what’s the difference? They were both flawed men, both incited dissent and revolution, both, I don’t know–rode horses (thanks, Brian Williams). And if we want to be perfectly truthful, both were men of their times. But there’s a distinct difference that some don’t get. Or rather, refuse to acknowledge.
What Washington did, along with Jefferson and Franklin and Adams to name a few, was extraordinary in its audaciousness. They dared to propose a government not of kings but of laws, not of a hereditary monarchy but of the people. Of course it was exclusionary, but it allowed for evolution, to create a more perfect union, to strive for …the pursuit of happiness. This American Revolution began even before Jefferson’s pen scratched out its principles, because it was so revolutionary in its thinking it instantly made obsolete every form of government before it. These men were not only of their time, but of the future. They envisioned a way forward, they dared to think that all men were created equal, even if all men at that time weren’t. But toward that more perfect union they marched, this government of laws that no man was above, in a sincere effort to get it right.
But Gen. Lee disagreed and led a march toward the past. He was defeated, as all backward thinking usually is. And in that, we find another truth.
We won’t go there again. We can’t. Because it’s not only in our nature to not go back, it’s in our collective DNA. We’re still marching toward that more Perfect Union.
I cannot even begin to tell you how I feel these days. Off-kilter may be a good descriptor. Or how about on edge. Nervous. Keyed up. Obsessed (with the news, at least). Angry. Defensive. Inspired. Hopeful. Determined. Renewed. The last few words come courtesy of what I’ve seen happening around me, on the Mall, at airports, in public squares. People becoming more engaged in the process. Millennials taking to the streets and making their voices heard. Journalism has been reborn and invigorated (when’s the last time you heard about a Kardashian?) recalling its roots and the First Amendment. I mean seriously, who’d have thought Americans would experience a world we previously imagined only in dystopian fiction? But it it’s real, and if you think it’s not happening, look around and see the signs invading our daily lives. I can even give you an example of how it’s affecting my writing. My work-in-progress features a man who’s in the U.S. armed forces. I like this character, he’s smart and funny and charming, and has all the qualities–and foibles–I’d expect from a fully functioning rational human being. But since he’s an officer in the service, I can’t help thinking how he’d view his commander-in-chief, how he’d react if he were sent to engage in a military action he’d find indefensible. Would he let his moral compass guide him? Or would he blindly obey orders because that’s what all military are supposed to do? I just don’t know. We are living in extraordinary times. I told a friend the other day this is what it must have felt like right before the Civil War. One thing I do know is I’ve never felt more patriotic, and that’s not just jingoism, kids. I’ve never believed in the wisdom of our founding fathers more. Because their true genius lay in the fact they knew their experiment in democracy was flawed, trusting in future generations to pursue a more perfect union. Which is why we need to keep working on it going forward, and never ever back, never again.
So the election’s over and Donald J. Trump won, even though at this writing, it’s looking like Hillary Clinton, may come out winning the popular vote, much like fellow Dem Al Gore in 2000. All over the Blue States people are clutching their heads and wailing, and I must admit I lost some sleep last night too, staying up late to watch the returns and laying awake wide-eyed, contemplating what it all means. The end of the two-party system? The return to institutionalized racism? The acceleration of global warming? Another stock market convulsion? The collapse of democracy and the world economy?
The improbable has suddenly become possible. How could a country that has elected someone as elegantly intelligent and steadfast as Barack Obama spin a one-hundred-eighty and end up with someone as bombastic and narcissistic as the thin-skinned Trump? You ask me, it was inevitable.
Hello–American and French Revolutions. Hello–American Civil War. Hello–Brexit. People pushed down, can only take so much pressure. It’s not that I agree with the method, but Trump is only a symptom, not the disease. There is a real income inequality in not only this nation, but in all of Western Civilization, and the Middle Class, once the shining symbol of our economic affluence, has contracted to the point of breaking. Like a bridge without suspension, its collapsed under its own weight.
But like Barack Obama said last night, “the sun will rise in the morning.” But it’s a cloudy day in New Jersey, and a little while it started to rain. Still, I’m not losing hope. Not completely, that is. Being a bit of an optimist, I’m trying to remain so. The comedians will have at least four years of good material. Alec Baldwin must be especially happy. The Republicans won’t have the Dems to blame anything on now, and they’ll have to perform. Here in New Jersey, we have a new governor to elect next year. Perhaps we’ll get the chance sooner if Christie finds a place with the new administration. (Fingers crossed.)
As for me, I have a new book to write. I’ve been zipping right along with NaNoWriMo, making great word count, and the ideas have just been flowing. It’s set in Atlantic City in 1983, back when the new casinos were rising, back when The Donald had two of them and Ivana was doing the decorating. If anything, the A.C. of then and the A.C. of now makes great copy, and being a veteran of the casino scene of yore, I have some of my own truths to tell. You see, with distance come clarity and back then, as with now, once you sift through all the noise, the flotsam and jetsam, the hyperbole and the shouting you can get at the truth. Things always get clearer in the light of day, after the sun rises in the morning.