August 17, 2019

Ode to My Country

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I turned 65 recently. Certainly not old by today’s standards but a good time for reflection. Particularly when I realize that I am now about 25 years older than Teddy Roosevelt when he charged up San Juan Hill, 40 years older than George Gershwin when he composed “Rhapsody in Blue,” and about twice as old as Thomas Jefferson when he proclaimed that “all men are created equal.”

What can I proclaim about America at a time when our political climate gets more interesting every day? And by “interesting,” you can interpret that word however you want.

It is a curious society we live in and a curious time to be part of the electorate. People habitually complain about Congress, yet historically vote for incumbents. Candidates receive their party’s nomination for president because it is “their turn” (Bob Dole, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton) yet nobody really feels that’s a good enough reason to be chosen. And on Election Day, many people often find themselves voting more out of civic duty than out of true passion for an individual candidate. I know. I’m one of these folks.

As the son of a World War II Silver Star recipient, I’ve always considered myself as patriotic as they come. I honor the flag, wish more performers would sing the national anthem as it was intended and hold out hope that more politicians will speak to us like adults. I’ve had the thrill of seeing the sunrise over Mount Rushmore, feeling the chill of true heroism at the Alamo, and shaking my head in disbelief at the bridge at Antietam. 

In his final speech a half century ago, Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy called the United States “a great county and a compassionate country.” I still believe that to be true, yet like many Americans, I find myself deeply troubled by what I see around me. That includes these nine realities I sadly know to be true:

1. In Washington, D.C., no bad idea stays dead for long. 

2. Today’s political talk shows contain everything except civility.

3. Whatever the United States does for its veterans isn’t enough. 

4. Finding a way to get out of jury duty has become almost as American as serving on a jury. 

5. The problem with politics today is that not enough good people care. 

6. The demise of daily newspapers makes us a sadder country. 

7. The decline of funding for art and music in our public schools makes us a much sadder country.

8. Our judicial system is too concerned with winning and losing and should be more concerned with truth and justice.

9. Elected officials are called “public servants” but many seldom act that way. 

There are other things about this country that I know to be true as well. I know that corporate mergers seldom benefit the average person. I know that health care belongs on the bottom shelf, where everyone can reach it. I know that all Americans should visit Gettysburg, Pa. 

“I know that our country is not perfect, but imperfection is part of the arc of America.”

I know that I don’t like the idea of people burning the American flag, but I like a law prohibiting it even less. I know there’s a reason the First Amendment is first. And I know that there are times I wished that the Electoral College gave honorary degrees. Most troubling of all, I know that our flag is at half-staff far too often for a civilized society. 

I also know that our country is not perfect, but imperfection is part of the arc of America. That makes it the responsibility of each generation to leave a better county than we inherited from the generation before. Perhaps that is why the framers of our Constitution talked about establishing “justice” but gave no definition of the word. Instead, they left it to each of us to define what justice means and just what it means to be “just.” 

Yes, I’ve turned 65. I was too young for the Freedom Riders and early space exploration but today am not too old to still believe, as Tennyson wrote, that some work of noble note may yet be done. I still believe that America is a shining city on the hill. But there are miles to go and promises to keep.


Ross K. Goldberg is the author of “I Only Know What I Know.” ionlyknow.com