Tuesday, October 3, 2023
#276 / A Pretty Good Story (And Not Yet Complete)
Yesterday, my blog posting featured a picture of the Statue of Liberty, and suggested that our past history of welcoming immigration was the right approach to what has become, in our current politics, an immensely divisive issue.
Shown above is the cover of a recent book by Heather Cox Richardson, a history professor at Boston College, and the author of her own daily blog, "Letters From An American." Richardson's blog is hugely popular, with something over a million subscribers. Richardson, too, is featuring the Statue of Liberty as an image that defines the United States.
The title of Richardson's book, "Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America," quite accurately describes her topic - at least as to the last part of her title. The book is, indeed, a set of "notes" documenting where we are today, in the United States of America, as seen from within the framework of our nation's history. Candidly, though, to the degree that someone perusing the shelves at a bookstore, and seeing her title on the book cover, might deduce that Richardson is documenting how democracy is "awakening" in America today, there is a slight disconnect between the expectation generated by the title and the book cover and the contents within the book.
It is not clear, from Richardson's "notes" on the state of America, whether democracy is "awakening" in our nation, today, or whether we are seeing a "sunset," not a "sunrise," of our historic national commitment to equality, and to a government that not only protects equality, but advances it. More than anything, Richardson's book documents a contemporary struggle, within our nation, to maintain our historic commitment to the kind of "democracy" defined and enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Our commitment to a "democracy" so understood survived a brutal civil war, in which the "Slave Power" challenged our nation's commitment to the proposition that all persons are "created equal," and that a government "of the people, by the people, [and] for the people" shall not be permitted to "perish from the earth.”
Hopefully, those reading this blog posting will recognize President Abraham Lincoln's words from the Gettysburg Address. Heather Cox Richardson is telling us that this struggle for democracy and self-government - for a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" - is what truly counts in our history. Our many failures in the struggle for human equality and self-government are well documented by Richardson, but she provides, in her book, what I think is "a pretty good story" about our past and continuing efforts to achieve what we have claimed is our national commitment.
Our story is a "pretty good story," and a story of great hope, and it's not over yet!
Here is a question for us, and a question not yet really answered. It's the same question that faced the nation in its very first moments: Is that sun going down? Or is it coming up?
All the historic figures whose contributions are so movingly documented by Richardson did their part to ensure that our national story is a story of "democracy awakening" - of a "New Morning," not a sunset. But there has never been a time when our story has reached its end, and when we know for sure what that end will be.
Richardson explains our history. But that's the past. Now (right now), it's up to us!