I spent most of the day, the Fourth of July, thinking about cemeteries, the past, America in the rear-view mirror. I thought about all our dead buried in Europe and the Pacific, at Arlington, in small towns and big cities here, their lives, service and sacrifice; a rather quiet, anonymous reminder of who and what our wounded country delivered to the world as a gift called liberty.
I thought about a wall in Washington, D.C. and a museum at the southern tip of Manhattan. I thought about all the firefighters, police officers, doctors, nurses, EMTs and the thousands of victims claimed by a virus that arrived like a strangler’s hand as our government slept and too many of our elected leaders quarreled but failed to lead, failed at the simple task of delivering a truth, a warning, while that virus stalks us with a ferocious and obvious appetite.
I thought about the one word—United—and the phrase, “We’re All In This Together,” and I recognize both today as a sad lie. We are neither united nor together. That’s the reality of this July 4.
History is a long story about the past, both recent and distant. History cannot be changed or altered because it is simply a compendium of events and personalities that once actually took place in real time. It is a catalogue of the good and the evil, both enlightening and unforgiving.
I also thought about a man standing in the shadow of Mt. Rushmore Friday night, seemingly intent on provoking a 21st-century civil war. Division is his dream. Duplicity is his principle tool as he feasts on resentment while knowingly provoking bitterness within those who may feel left out or left behind in a land where a whole class of citizens is frightened and anxious, thinking economic security, their very future, their children’s future, is being stolen by “the other,” by “them,” an enemy the man in the shadow of four of our greatest presidents is eager, willing, and very ready to exploit and aggravate.
That man has no sense of our history. He has no idea of who built this country, sacrificed for it, stood for it through all the hard times and good times, too. And he continued his contemptuous act Saturday evening with Lincoln again in the background as witness.
He barely reads at the level of a fourth grader. And he thinks like a selfish, spoiled seventh grader who is always worried that someone will steal his lunch, laugh at him and leave him crying in a corner.
Much of the audience he seeks to fool and woo with words like “heritage” and “radical” have always worn the uniform of the invisible among us. We know who they are. They are everywhere around us. They teach school, care for the sick, protect the vulnerable. They wait on tables, stock grocery shelves, put out fires, respond to 911 calls, pick up trash, care for the elderly, work in daycare, do their jobs, pay their taxes.
They are descendants of pioneers, slaves, immigrants, and refugees, of clerks, farmers, municipal workers, and the minimum-wage poor; of parents who remember the Depression and World War II, parents who served in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan or simply went to work without complaint each day thinking about and kind of believing in something called the American dream.
Why? Because they all share one common bond: They are human beings, meaning none of them is perfect. They are all susceptible to flaws, making mistakes, but unwilling to surrender hope. That’s our universal condition. But in truth, they were and are our real and forever founders.
They are not stone or cement murals or statues or famous names and legends. Many of them now measure current history paycheck to paycheck. They view the future across a table at breakfast or supper as they look at their children. The past is just that…past. Gone.
They are you, me, all of us. And we are all now spectators and participants in one of history’s tragic markers, our country led by an incompetent who is willing to ignite a race war, a class war, to feed his deeply damaged sense of himself. A social arsonist in the White House.
At the end of the day I sat on a porch looking out past an American flag barely moving in the breezeless dusk as a dull sun set in the distant horizon. I thought about my own family, my children, my mother who used to swear at me in Gaelic, my grandmother who never really recovered from losing her youngest boy at Midway in June of 1942.
I thought about all the people I know who work a lot harder than I have ever worked, all of them hoping that their blood, sweat, tears, faith, and service to this country of ours would mean something to their children and grandchildren. I thought about the historic inequality that has been history’s anchor on a dream long deferred, and that perhaps “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” could actually become more of a reality than it is today.
History is a long hard road to travel filled with sacrifice and success, heartache and happiness, inequity and incomparable surprises, good and evil. It is a never-ending, clock-never-stopping story.
But now, right now in this divided, exhausted, angry, self doubting, and not so aptly named United States of America, we are in a moment that must not be missed. Now is our time to think and remember not so much who we are but who we really want to be.
And in order to make our mark on this singularly unique moment, we must show up in November to make sure that the man who stood at the foot of Mt. Rushmore and in front of the Lincoln Memorial is sent into the shadows of history, humiliated by defeat and the knowledge that Americans want something he cannot deliver: an end to the race war, the class divisions, the constant fear of a virus, a shattered economy, incompetence, corruption, and the premeditated cruelty of a fraud who stole our Fourth of July and is trying to steal our country too.