There was a sense of Trump fatigue when news of another march appeared on the front page of the local newspaper, then spread online to outlets like DailyNews.com, Breitbart.com, KTLA News, and YouTube. These protests have been occurring fairly regularly since inauguration day, sometimes branded as a “Women’s March” or a “March for Science.” Another group called for impeachment and they, like the group at Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, were confronted by pro-Trump demonstrators who cloak themselves in the flag and chant “USA! USA!” A pair of clever posts by a fellow blogger started the gears turning, now the sight of a folder without any timely yet incomplete drafts in it has motivated me to grapple with my own feelings about American civics, government, and politics. There’s also the little matter of what “great” means in a country governed by a former reality TV star promising to bring back what may have never gone away.
When I started writing in high school my Walkman was constantly spinning tapes by Ice T, Public Enemy, and X-Clan. At the time a lobbying group led by Tipper Gore was pressing the recording industry to start labeling “obscene” content in a clash that led to the arrest of 2 Live Crew in Florida. This was my first real contact with what is casually referred to as “the swamp” now. It was never really clear if “Me so horny” bothered people at the Parents Music Resource Center more than “Fight the Power,” though now I suspect it did. All I knew then was a senator’s wife wanted the clerks at Tower Records to ask for ID before selling me It takes a Nation of Millions to hold us back. It pissed me off. That was between me and the people who paid me for mowing the lawn and walking the dogs; they knew the essence of what I was listening to, and I knew what would happen to me if I dropped an f-bomb in pleasant company.
If somebody asked what that said about this place millions call home I probably would have said “nothing good,” but an 18-year-old’s perspective has its limits. The years since have taught me to be wary of equating America’s stature with any person or group, all the more so when adjectives like “great” or “exceptional” and bromides like “love it or leave it” are involved. America is not a just nation of men or clans — it’s a set of ideas, that people have inherent rights, that governments exist to protect them, and that “we the people” can alter or abolish one that does not. It might seem like a misplaced thought since the US hasn’t exactly lived up to the values it was founded on. I wouldn’t have to read Howard Zinn to know of the many sins that dot America’s history, but it is possible to reconcile principle with reality.
The founder’s beliefs are central to a continuing debate over the importance of faith to their actions. Some of it is a way of sorting out what each of the men who signed the Constitution believed, Huffington Post blogger Jeff Schweitzer is one who believes America has never been a Christian nation. I get a sense that beyond their belief in providence and wariness of concentrated power the founders were pragmatists who understood how fallible we all are, but trusted that people would find the right path. No? Consider this: they had to make a Faustian bargain with the Southern states to found this nation at a time when insistence on abolition could have fractured it. I don’t mean to take this lightly — it took a war to begin breaking up that horrid institution — only to understand their decision as part of a history defined by the choices people make when ideal options are often unavailable.
That divide is the heart of this country: people are occasionally short-sighted, corruptible, domineering, and do bring their vices into business or government. It’s why legal segregation took so long to break. But there are also different ways of defining concepts like “justice,” “domestic tranquility,” and “general welfare.” Those differences are reflected in ongoing disputes over police use-of-force and the government’s role in health care. This is the beauty of America, that the symphony is never finished — people keep improvising as society keeps changing. Same-sex marriage would have been unthinkable five years ago, now that a dedicated couple, state legislatures, their lawyers, and the supreme court intervened it’s law. The founders created a nation that is not perfect or perfectible, one that could elect Donald Trump and whose other branches fend off or ignore his worst instincts. America falls short of greatness for reasons that go beyond a certain reality TV star, but still has all the potential.