March 17, 2003
This weekend at the grocery I saw Latinas fill their carts with corned beef
and cabbage, and the bakery department featured green biscotti and bagels. This, I thought, is daily life in the greatest
country in the world.
I love America. At its best, it is grand and loopy at once. At its best, it's
Davy Crockett and Huckleberry Finn and Bugs Bunny. America is as awesome as the Grand Canyon. America is as absurd as green
biscotti for St. Patrick's Day. It's as raucus as Times Square and as sweet as wild honeysuckle in a tangled Kentucky woods.
I've had family on these shores for close to three centuries. With many other people, my
family helped create this grand and loopy country. My foremothers rode into the unknown on buckboards, made gardens in the
wildnerness, raised their children among the poison ivy and venomous snakes of the Appalachian and Ozark mountains. My forefathers
drove mules and cleared forests and broke ground.
The men in my family fought for America alongside Francis Marion in Savannah
and William Tecumseh Sherman in Atlanta. They were in the trenches of Meuse-Argonne. They went down with the Arizona;
they were prisoners of war in Japan. They fought and suffered and sometimes died for America.
The America I know is not an empire. It's a small, comfortable place where my grandpa took me fishing when
I was little, and where we swam in shallow rivers while bluegill darted between our legs. It's four generations of family
jamming itself into the kitchen to talk while the Thanksgiving turkey cooks. It's sitting in a schoolroom under the icy glare
of Gilbert Stuart's Washington, listening to radiators hiss and spit and watching snow fall through frosty windows.
Through the years Americans lived and worked and played, and always there was a sense of something
better -- and grander -- just ahead. Along with the Constitution, what's held us together as a people (more or less) are our
hopes and expectations for ourselves and our nation.
I hope that my America still lives.
All day long the talking heads on CNN have announced brightly that most Americans back the President's plan for a preemptive
attack of Iraq. A majority of Americans believe our government's lie that Saddam Hussein must be removed because he backed
the September 11 attacks. So a lie is about to send Americans into battle, and a lie will install an American military government
At the same time, the government protects the wealth of the wealthy, while the not-wealthy struggle with rising costs
and sinking incomes. The Bush Administration is building a protective wall around the super-rich and super-powerful so that
they may usurp the nation's wealth and plunder its resources. The rest of us are increasingly vulnerable; just one layoff
away from financial ruin and loss of access to health care.
If George Bush's policies are allowed to continue unchecked, the America just ahead will be a place with strict limits
on both liberty and opportunity. Our hopes and expectations will be replaced by fear and stagnation. And when this happens,
America will be dead and gone. Oh, we still may call it America. We may yet wave the flag and shoot off fireworks on the Fourth
of July. But it won't be the same America my ancestors knew.
Is it too late to save America? I don't know. I hope not.