Take And Give

America really is a remarkable experiment. Immigrants, or descendants of immigrants living in a place where they dared conceive of a life marked, to some extent, by self-determination and having choices.

Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Washington, Madison and the rest created this simultaneously robust and fragile entity in which people, at least on paper, were granted those inalienable rights, along with certain responsibilities. What we’ve learned since is that those rights were enjoyed largely by white northern European immigrants who gave no quarter to indigenous people and to others who didn’t look like them or worship like them or talk like them. Most of us know this by now. It’s still the case, though things are changing rapidly.

Maybe we’re disappointed by the reality, by the hypocrisy and biased history taught as truth when we were growing up. Yet the ideal still motivates.

I mention all this because we’re living, once again, in a time when this grand experiment is under assault. Once again, people seem to be forgetting how hard it is to maintain this fragile space, not fully understanding or appreciative of what they have. They’re slipping into default mode, where the only seemingly viable form of governance finds expression in the loudest talkers– the self-serving autocrat, the promise-spewing, power-hungry despot for whom government of the people, by the people, and for the people presents too much of a challenge, is too cumbersome, too hard. Maybe even a quaint, ridiculous notion.

It might get one thinking that representative governance, with its attendant messiness, give and take, winning AND losing, and the need for a cosmic, color-blind perspective and sense of unity, is somehow always going to be beyond too many of us, destined to remain an ideal and not much more.

Maybe the best we can hope for is that enough of us are on the same page, working toward that more perfect union.

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