For Moments Like This, I Love This Country
Despite, if not because of, its quirks
We come on the ship they call the Mayflower,
We come on the ship that sailed the Moon,
We come in the age's most uncertain hour,
And sing an American tune.
I'll say! (Paul Simon sang.) Talk about uncertain hours.
And yet, you gotta love it. Here's an election with everything
America has to offer--choices, arguments, laughs, gaffs,
screw-ups, recounts of recounts, old people with placards, chaos
without penalty and--God bless 'em--lawyers. I love this country.
Thanks to moments like this, I know it's there.
I heard a nitwit on a cable-TV news show say this mess is bound
to discourage the younger people from believing in the political
process. Discourage? If the young have been paying attention,
they'll be singing their heads off.
Democracy is an odd and perverse little duck; it insists that you
exercise your civic identity so that you can enjoy your
individual identity. And that's what we do most of the time.
There are occasions, such as wars, depressions, Lucky Lindy
heroics, the deaths of great figures that beckon us back to the
unified entity. Generally, though, we are the United States of
Solitude--private celebrators of Emerson's self-reliance who, like
the melancholy lady, vant to be alone.
This is why it is so hard to make coherent sense of the place.
Every time we "all come to look for America" (another Simon
lyric) , we end up staring at ourselves. Old Whitman sang the
confusion: "Males, females, immigrants, combinations, the
copiousness, the individuality of the States each for itself ... O
lands! all so dear to me--what you are, (whatever it is), I become
a part of that, whatever it is."
The individuality of the states, indeed. If presidential
elections weren't about the states, we wouldn't be in this fix.
The Founding Fathers created a clever structure of the whole
where everyone is free to be you and me. Everything in the design
of the Union tugs away from the Union, which may be why the Union
tugs back from time to time.
This is what's happening in this most uncertain hour, when not
only do we feel like a single place but also experience a useful
sense of calm in the middle of lawyers. For that we can thank the
Founders for inventing a constitutional structure that provides a
safety net for the uncertain hours. And the country is held
together by will as well. On TV, the handlers of the two
candidates continue to warn against fistfights in the halls, but
they are the only ones likely to throw a punch. The rest of
us--perhaps because the election is so close, and not in spite of
that--are imperfectly content to see whoever emerges emerge.
America has one great ghost in the attic, who whispers the name
America in the middle of the night, to remind us that--evidence of
individual competitiveness and self-interest to the contrary
notwithstanding--somewhere in the unconscious heart, a nation
comes together. If that were not so, we could never make it
through times like this with such blithe self-confidence.
On Comedy Central's Daily Show, which has provided coverage of
the election at least equal in substance to most of the straight
news shows, filmmaker Michael Moore proposed to host Jon Stewart
that teams be sent from Burundi and Peru to monitor our election,
under the supervision of Jimmy Carter. Ralph Nader appeared on
another show to say that he thought the reputation of his Green
Party had been strengthened by this election. On yet another
show, Pat Buchanan felt moved to say that it was a time for
nobility and healing. I love this country.