Hello from the corner of my room,
Heritage is a word often used to explain from where we originate, how we understand what it is we value, or perhaps even more intimately, what we turn to when we try to explain our own particular identity. In the past I have looked at issues of ethnicity, of tradition, of patriotism, and I am sure those who have read for a while might add other words that connect them to this term. Certainly the term might include a sort of birthright or inheritance. It might be seen as a benefit or even a burden. Many have swabbed their cheek and sent that swab away in an attempt to better, or more accurately, understand their ethnic DNA. Regardless the way you define this word, for most of us understanding who we are or from where we come is important, perhaps even essential, when we begin to seriously work on ourselves and where we fit into that picture we call our lives.
I know heritage is something that causes me anxiety, and that is particularly the case when I try to understand where I am going, from where I have come, which covers my future and my past, but it even creates difficulty when I am trying to figure out how I belong to the present. What I am realizing is I feel like I fit everywhere and nowhere. What I was confronted with earlier today is as I have isolated myself, mostly out of fear, is someone I cared for deeply, and loved for the care they have provided passed away in December and I did not know. I was told by my sandbox friend. She told me that she was sorry to hear about my cousin. I had to confess I was not aware of his passing. The reasons for that gap in contact with either person are complex, but regardless, choices I made kept me out of the conversation and I had no idea this was either on the horizon or more specifically had happened. It is his picture that graces this blog entry. While he had a generation on me, he was married to my cousin. It is the consequence of being adopted by older people as an almost 5 year old. Their eldest boy is less than a year younger than me. Their eldest daughter is one of the most important people in my life, and that is part of the difficulty that created this gap in contact . . . It is early morning on the 12th of February, it is the birthdate of Martha Hannestad, the oldest of my relatives that I ever met in my life. She immigrated from Norway and was born there in 1877, barely a decade after our Civil War. It was her hundredth birthday on the day my older brother was buried, having suffered a traumatic brain injury after a rather random construction accident. I have lived almost 2/3s of my life without him around. He was an incredibly intelligent person and a fabulously talented musician. All part of my heritage. It is that side of my family that there seems to be the most connection and understanding. I do know that Diane, who would actually be my second cousin, has done some pretty extensive genealogical research on the Martin side of the family.
It seems that what connects us to our past is more than experience and memory, but what exactly is it? Is it our ability to remember the past and imagine the future? Is it the emotional part of our humanity that needs a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves? And what about our larger collective heritage? As I have listened to so many of the daily news items, be it here or in other place, they are often connected to an understanding of national identity or perhaps national expectations. Yet again, from where does it identity come? How are these expectations created? We have heard more times than one can begin to count “this is not who we are as Americans.” Or even if you want to subscribe to the four words that emblazon the hats of the President’s most ardent supporters. What does it mean to “Make America Great Again?” When were we great and if we can even begin to agree on the when, what made us great and according to whom? Certainly military might or prowess affects how others see us, but does that make us great? Certainly economic might or influence forces others to deal with us, but does that make us great? Certainly, we have basic rights and with them we buy guns legally and kill young people in schools or kill indiscriminately at concerts or kill people at nightclubs because they are different in their orientation than we are. Is this the heritage we hope to pass on to our children and grandchildren? We have a President whose attorneys pay off porn stars or playmates, who claims he can grab women by their genitals, and then preaches that no one respects women more than he does. Whether we want to admit or realize it or not, when he speaks at the President (regardless the Twitter account he uses), he speaks for all of us. He is the face of our country, and as President he is now part of our national heritage. For the first time in my six-plus decades, I have to say with both a bit of chagrin and a great deal of consternation, I am embarrassed in spite of the fact, and perhaps because, we somehow elected this malcontent. Each morning I wake and honestly worry what he has done by his latest tweet to undermine our national security apparatus or create confusion between what is real and what his self-absorbed psyche perceives to be reality. His life is certainly more fable that reality, except he is the President so every half-brained, ill-researched, pathetic, paranoiac tweet he issues has consequence both here and abroad. The Washington Post’s front page article today is titled “Top US Officials Tell the World to Ignore Trump’s Tweets.” I spend significant time looking at the headlines today from Fox to CNN and many things in between. The negative slant from all sides only supports my contention that as a country we are more fragmented than ever. The last election create an implosion of the American political system beyond anything we have seen in our lifetime. I believe the fissures in our terra firma are beyond any we have ever experienced. I would imagine some of this is reminiscent of the 1840s-1860s which culminated in Fort Sumter.
There are times I believe the battle today might be as desperate as it was then, but it hurts me to say most of the struggle has originated in our nation’s capitol as there is little to no civility or decorum and it seems to worsen by the week, or maybe the Day or hour. Certainly the struggle with slavery and the Emancipation and eventually the 13th Amendment created unbelievable dissension, but it seems the argument there was to preserve a union. What happens when the President himself seems intent on doing anything but? I know that is an extreme statement, but it seems he cares little about what the consequences of his speech or tweets might be. With no concern for consequence, I believe one has the right (and the logical concern) to question intent. He might just create a new civil war of sorts, but one with much more dire consequences. Perhaps not that ironically, but much more so unfortunately, some of the issues are paralleled 150 years or so later. Issues of privilege and justice, issues of discrimination and bigotry, issues of acceptance of the other and respect of human dignity: all of these things are under attack by so many in the world, both here and abroad. Justice is not justice if it is not equally applied. It is interesting that as someone who owned slaves, but was yet our first President, that he would write, “Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all.” It did not happen for all peoples, but we know better than that now, or I would like to believe we do or should. For those who are afraid of the other, worried that those from another place will somehow sully the world in which we live, they need to realize their narrow-minded and isolationist behavior are one of the main reasons we live in such a bigoted world. Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome and charitable views of [others] and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Jeane Kirkpatrick, the first woman Ambassador to the United Nations, said the following about human dignity, “I think that it’s always appropriate for Americans and for American foreign policy to make clear why we feel that self-government is most compatible with peace, the well-being of people, and human dignity.” Dignity is central to our American heritage and it is the very thing I believe to be most under attack at the present. There is little dignity in what the President tweets or in how he responds to anyone, within his administration or outside it, when there is a disagreement or some sense of difference of view or opinion. I do not accept that he is speaking directly to the American people through his tweets. He is throwing a tantrum when he does not get what he wants to 40+ million followers of his account. He is like the baby screaming in the quietness of a church service that needs to be taken out and managed. How sad to say such of someone we somehow elected to the office of President. How embarrassing that we need to see his vitriol displayed across the newspapers globally as he launches into yet another tirade blaming anyone, anything, and anytime for the shit storm he as created.
As we end yet another week, he launched a new initiative on Monday past that needs to be considered. It is about the failing infrastructure of the country, and I am sure there is support on both sides of the aisle and among the American people that we need to do something. Putting 85 percent of it on the backs of anything or anyone but the federal government is a problem, but I do agree something needs to be done. Instead, we are addressing issues of domestic violence and lack of security clearances at the highest levels of the West Wing; by Wednesday we had another mass shooting and the reality that schools are becoming one of the least safe places for students to be. By Friday, we have an indictment of 13 Russians for meddling in our election, which was nothing that happened according to the White House since the President was inaugurated. It is a witch hunt and a farce. While it is another piece in the puzzle, I am afraid there is still more to come. Where it all goes, I do not know, but what I do know is Washington D.C. is a zoo. Again, it is embarrassing. I detest what I read every day; not because I agree or disagree, but there is something daily that seems to prove that our federal government is broken. I am not sure it is beyond repair, but I am concerned about the possibility. As citizens we need to be concerned. As citizens we need to somehow pull ourselves together and question the lack of civility and decorum that saturates our national identity. The brilliant experiment of American Democracy hangs in the balance. I honestly believe this. This is not a Republican Party or a Democrat Party issue, it is an American issue. The courts are questioning the actions of the President. Certainly some in Congress are questioning the actions of the President. We need to be questioning all of it. To fail to do something is to ignore our heritage. To fail to do something leaves a country where future generations will wonder what happened to the beacon of light that welcomed all to our shores and promised them a chance at a better existence where liberty was central.
Heritage is a complex term, but it is who we are either as an individual, a family, or a country. It is time we return to each and make sure we protect that ideal or that person who is so valuable. I have used this before, but it seems so important to listen to this now.
Thank you for reading as always.
Dr. Martin (a veteran, a patriotic American, a simple Midwest boy)