“A republic if you can keep it.”*
It has been a few days since my last post. I have been traveling, visiting children and grandchildren, celebrating birthdays and impending graduations, and tomorrow I am off to Mexico for my godson’s wedding. But it’s not just the travel and living out of a suitcase that has caused my quiet pen, for these are all happy occasions – and yet I feel a sense of bewilderment, even anxiety, as I think beyond my immediate world, and I have doubted over the last few days that I have anything left to say that would make any difference.
As I watch a man – for whom I never voted and with whom I often disagreed but whom I always admired – ridiculed without apology as he faces his impending death with extraordinary grace and courage, I don’t have the vocabulary to describe a nation that has sunk to that level. In his public life, which is the only one I know, John McCain has personified virtues I was brought up to admire: courage, honesty, fairness, loyalty, honor, service. These are words we don’t hear much these days, virtues that seem quaint now and out of favor.
As I see photos of a young couple smiling insipidly as they dedicate the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, while a figurative stone’s throw away a forgotten people cry out to be recognized, to be remembered, I can’t express how obscene it seems to me to commemorate the incredible accomplishment of Israel’s 70th anniversary without reference to what is happening on the other side of the fence.
An unprecedented callousness has crept into our public discourse, and in the land of me first, the other no longer seems to matter. Bullies are not to be confronted but emulated. Lies are not to be exposed but repeated until they have become indistinguishable from the truth. And only a sucker says I’m sorry.
But a democracy not only can’t flourish in such an environment, it cannot long survive. At the park the other day, I watched my son explain to his 18-month-old daughter that, no, she couldn’t take the toy from the other child even though she wanted to play with it. It was a lesson that didn’t go over all that well, but she’ll get the hang of it. It’s how we learn to live together in a community. It is the foundation of our democracy.
*“Benjamin Franklin, in response to a woman who had asked, 'Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?'”