Sunday, July 04, 2021

National birthday

The old Republic is feeling a bit shaky these days. Can we keep it? The question seems more up-for-grabs than perhaps at any time since the eve of the Civil War. A sizeable minority of citizens have given up on majoritarian democracy. With the connivance of a right wing Supreme Court, the party of aggrieved old white people is seeking to undermine the right to vote among those of us who will never admit their unchallenged right to all power.

I don't know how we get out of this bind, but I commit to the struggle to preserve and win the conditions for greater justice, greater fairness, greater equality, and better lives for all.

To that end on this national birthday, here is an artifact from the national canon that we would be well to recall.

The Black poet Langston Hughes captured our defining national ambiguities in Let America Be America Again in 1935.

Let America be America again.

Let it be the dream it used to be.

Let it be the pioneer on the plain

Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—

Let it be that great strong land of love

Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme

That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty

Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,

But opportunity is real, and life is free,

Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,

Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)


O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Happy birthday U.S. of A.

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