I am aware of the pointlessness of this … letter, but I do not know quite what to do at this point other than maunder about aimlessly and pay attention to my heart flame out in reaction to what is occurring today. I know I am not alone in wondering how to effectively oppose, through some meaningful process, the destruction on its way, this ascendant sociopathic capitalism and its avatars. This Inauguration feels like we are all standing in an unlit room, and the door is closing, and once it clicks shut and locks and we can see only dimly, something malignant and cruel will be let go among us.
On a stage in Washington on this day, many qualities of decency I have been taught to emulate and to admire in others will feel as if they are being suborned — honesty, the protection of the weak, the rule of law, valor, wisdom, ordinary politeness and decorum, sacrifice, humility and that old chestnut, love of country.
Mr. President Trump, love of country can slip so easily into love of the fatherland, love of our tribe, race, class, symbol — an American Flag, a Confederate flag and assertive memes for every micro-issue of the news cycle. Love of country can so quickly become a toxin, but still, this place where we were raised, this collection of myths and freedoms and injustices and strivings, this stumbling mess, this stubborn, almost blind mess, has a place in my irrational heart.
Mr. President Trump, we too are American, the 73 million who did not vote for you, and we too love this brilliant, awful, bloody and blessed place. Ask any one of us why and we will tell you about where we live, how the landscape we carry inside our imaginations became peopled with our friends and families. We will tell you how this country’s texture and the composition of its fabric are full of contradictions and truth-telling and lies and long ancestral leaps of loving remembrance.
I love this country for the stories I have taken into my imagination, sentiments shot through with images and names. The list is long: the stand of malaria ridden, hungry Marines and Army on Edson’s Ridge on Guadalcanal; the end of the fishhook at Gettysburg and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain; Meriwether Lewis on the Upper Missouri in sight of the ‘shining mountains’; Crazy Horse, who never allowed his photo taken, who rode through the center of butcher Custer’s line on Last Stand Hill; Harriet Tubman at Combahee Ferry; Bob Moses, alone in the Mississippi Delta in ‘64, registering poor black men and women to vote; ML King in Memphis, immersed in the final agony and optimism of his immense life; both generations of good police officers and those who resisted unjust laws, both ordinary soldiers and many who resisted war; Rachel Carson, who showed us what blind avarice does to nature, and Kirsten Gillibrand who presently fights against ingrained malice and stupidity to protect women who serve from sexual assault; Lincoln, enduring, evolving; T.R.Roosevelt setting aside millions of acres for us, for now; the freezing figures on the line at Standing Rock.
Mr. President Trump, all of these men and women have two qualities in common: they sacrificed (and still sacrifice) some part of their lives for the greater good, and they believed (still believe) in honor and justice as vital, living components of their America, and they fought (still fight) for something more than the right to be selfish.
What virtues do you embrace Mr. President Trump? Do you believe in anything other than domination and scorn? Do you believe in anything other than your own enrichment and power? Do you feel anything for the powerless and poor, for the dispossessed, for the men and women in uniform, the authentic 1%, or are all of them just suckers or losers who deserve their fate?
These are rhetorical questions, also pointless, for I cannot believe Mr. President Trump would consider them.
However, Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus to destroy its Christian community was felled from his horse by a burst of light greater than the desert sun. A voice came from the heavens asking why he was committed to this pernicious task. For three days he could not see. He took no nourishment. He remained inside a room, inside himself, finally forced to meditate on his arrogance and brutality. When he emerged he was capable of writing this: “Love does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” *
So, in this regard, I set one province of my hope against my cynicism, but great stretches of the rest of that territory is peopled by men and women of conscience who know how to say No! to iniquitous deeds. Darkness always calls forth light.
We too are Americans.
*1 Corinthians 13: 5-7, New International Version