Once a great no­tion

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Kath­leen Parker

see how things are go­ing and to ask ev­ery­one what he can do to help.

I as­sure you that Frank will con­tinue his ded­i­ca­tion and de­vo­tion that our town des­per­ately needs while serv­ing us as the next mayor of Ch­e­sa­peake City.

— It was such a mar­velous idea: The United States of Amer­ica.

Ob­vi­ously, we’ve never re­ally pulled it all to­gether un­der one hat, but it has al­ways seemed that at least we were striv­ing for a more perfect union.

No more. Some­thing changed — and quickly, as his­tory goes. Ac­tu­ally, ev­ery­thing did.

Mas­sive im­mi­gra­tion has changed the face of the na­tion in more than metaphor­i­cal ways. Glob­al­iza­tion has made us seem or at least feel less unique among na­tions. Our hy­per­par­ti­san­ship aug­mented by in­ces­sant media cov­er­age tied to rat­ings and greed has re­duced pol­i­tics to a park­ing lot brawl.

De­mo­graphic slic­ing and dic­ing is es­sen­tial to elec­tions, of course. An­a­lysts and op­er­a­tives are es­pe­cially at­tached to the seg­mented sets of in­di­vid­u­als, the bet­ter to ob­jec­tify them into man­age­able parts and, thus, to pre­dict or win elec­tions.

This much is un­der­stood and has been so much dis­cussed and writ­ten about that we’re nearly out of oxy­gen and ink.

Less well un­der­stood is how th­ese cease­less re­duc­tions af­fect the whole. How do we sus­tain our unit­ed­ness when our di­vid­ed­ness is re­lent­lessly ar­tic­u­lated and shrewdly used to turn one against the other? Unit­ing 50 states is hard enough with­out the many vari­ables that com­bine to make up an in­di­vid­ual, group, class, com­mu­nity and, ul­ti­mately, a vot­ing bloc. One na­tion, in­di­vis­i­ble, my eye. Ev­ery now and then, the Ad Coun­cil, Benet­ton or some other group will re­mind us that we’re all one peo­ple. “I am an Amer­i­can,” says a gentle­man sport­ing a som­brero. “I am an Amer­i­can,” says a woman wear­ing a nun’s habit. Or a rainbow row of chil­dren wear­ing adorable togs will make us want to adopt the world.

They make us smile. We feel good. Amer­ica rolls along. Or do we? Such ads are pro­pa­ganda by any other name, ide­al­ized ver­sions of what we’re sup­posed to be. But there’s noth­ing mul­ti­cul­tural about what Don­ald Trump is sell­ing. And though he may have pots of gold, rainbows run away when The Don­ald’s dark scowl ap­pears.

In fact, Trump and his min­ions don’t want a united na­tion. What they want is their coun­try back, or, in the slicker slo­gan, to “make Amer­ica great again.” Trans­la­tion: They want their ma­jor­i­ty­white, An­glo-Saxon, Judeo-Chris­tian coun­try back.

This is never go­ing to hap­pen and yet Trump never ad­mits it. He isn’t go­ing to round up 11 mil­lion peo­ple and send them back whence they came. He isn’t go­ing to block Mus­lims from en­ter­ing the United States. But it seems to please his base for him to say so and it doesn’t seem to bother Trump that he’s fib­bing. What any­one seek­ing to be­come pres­i­dent at th­ese dicey times must an­swer is how do we adapt to our changed world to be­come a united na­tion once again? With so much stri­dency and drama, it’s hard some­times to re­mem­ber what this elec­tion is about. Ex­hausted by the car alarm of pol­i­tics, one wishes only for peace and quiet.

Then along comes a mo­ment that feels real and good and true — Me­mo­rial Day in Ox­ford, a tiny town at the end of the road on the Eastern shore of Maryland, where about 125 friends, neigh­bors and strangers gath­ered in a tight cir­cle around a small stone mon­u­ment in the town park. Um­brel­las aloft, all lis­tened in­tently as a re­tired Navy cap­tain, an Epis­co­pal priest, and the town’s po­lice chief took turns read­ing the names of those who have fallen since last Me­mo­rial Day.

As the bu­gler played taps, veter­ans in our small group saluted while oth­ers cov­ered their hearts. It was a ten­der mo­ment of rev­er­ence — all too rare and noth­ing like the ca­coph­ony of the pub­lic square.

As the priest said a final prayer and the color guard passed, I felt pro­foundly sad, not just for those who had died and their fam­i­lies but for the na­tion known as the United States of Amer­ica. I’m not alone. Peo­ple write. Friends call to talk about what’s to come. Sit­ting on my stoop in Wash­ing­ton, a neigh­bor­hood gath­er­ing spot on any given af­ter­noon, my fel­low “stoop­ers” speak more se­ri­ously than they used to. Life is less fun as the fu­ture seems more omi­nous.

Democ­racy, free­dom, civ­i­liza­tion — it all hangs by a thread. Amer­ica was al­ways just an idea, a dream founded in the faith that men were ca­pa­ble of great good. It was a be­lief made real by an im­plau­si­ble con­ven­tion of bril­liant minds and the en­dur­ing courage of gen­er­a­tions who fought and died. For what? Surely, not this. Kath­leen Parker is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact her at kath­leen­parker@ wash­post.com.


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