When I was 10 years old my family took a vacation to the east coast to visit Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello, Mount Vernon, and our nation’s capital. Like so many others of my generation, my consciousness was awakened 5 years earlier by the assassination of President John F Kennedy and I became obsessed with everything that had anything to do with Presidents, American government, our founding, the colonies, and Congress. I was fascinated by figures in powdered wigs, with ruffled shirts, who wrote eloquent tomes with giant quills.
I bought into the American myth, hook, line and sinker. And I still do. While the flaws in our history that have belied our promise, like slavery and the denial of women’s suffrage must be viewed askance, I forgive our forebears within the context of their time, not to lessen the atrocities of prejudice, but to believe in the higher purpose of representative democracy to be the agent of justice and change.
In 1968 when we walked up the steps to the Capitol the marble and sandstone glistened with what I perceived at the time to be the collective wisdom of all of the great men and women who passed before. I still remember the echo of hushed voices in the Rotunda as others toured with the same reverence for the history of our government.
When we drove past the White House I imagined President Johnson inside signing some document or another. We drove past the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials and my impression was that they were as huge as they should be to commemorate the great men inside.
We walked the cobblestone streets of Colonial Williamsburg and I decided that I might be a reincarnation of an 18th century blacksmith; I felt so completely at home.
Upon our return to Iowa I immersed myself in American history and the workings of government. I ran for Student Council, took humanities classes, and devoured social studies. I admired the people who ran for office, and for our elected officials, even when they failed. Richard Nixon became president soon after our Washington adventure, but I never hated him. I drowned myself in Watergate news, and concluded that President Nixon was not an honest man, but— I never disliked him. I believed, and still do, that Richard Nixon was awed by the office he held.
President Reagan was, too. So were Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama and every President who came before. I think that American history, with all of its flaws, conquests, challenges and promises granted or missed, has worn the coat of greatness, and it has been our participation in that noble myth that has held our nation together.
Which brings this long windup to its conclusion: President Trump has no such allegiance to the divine grace of democracy; to the sanctity of social justice; or to the awe inspiring mechanism of American government. Never in my life, or in my perception of life before me, has the power of the office of President of the United States been so sullied. But, today, as I read Mean Tweets from the man who carries the torch of our highest office, and watch his insincere directives that separate, subjugate, and suppress, I feel exactly that way.