Wednesday, August 04, 2004

It's been a long time since I posted here. Re-reading my past entries, I am struck by many things -- but first of all I'm struck by the fact that my posting ended just before the start of our war with Iraq. I was, it appears, struck dumb by that event.

In the best of times, I am not a fast and facile writer. So perhaps, under any conditions, my decision to start a blog was ill-considered -- I don't have a talent for the immediate, my reactions aren't quick enough.

But, beyond that, these are not the best of times. This is a time when manipulative dishonesty, arrogant fantasy, slippery salesmanship and smug "faith" (providing cover to extreme self-will) have overcome many of the virtues that have, in times of conflict and trial, been this country's saving grace; democratic modesty, pragmatism, a preference for the straight-forward and plain spoken over the grandiose, for decency on a human scale over glory on a grand one, for imperfect unity over uncompromising, angry, and at its heart exploitive, division, for the practical over the ideological.

These virtues haven't always prevailed, of course. There are plenty of examples in our history when grandiosity and smugness -- an aggressive insistence on our "exceptionalism" and a bellicose clamoring, by some, for their self-interested and often cruel version of the perfect -- have led us to violence and inhumanity. But, time and again, our more modest virtues have re-asserted themselves and, more or less, saved us from the worst in us.

Will they do so again? Or have they been, finally and for all time, vanquished? This is the question that troubles me and makes it difficult for me to write. Does the America that so informs my own identity -- of humble but solid virtues, tolerant practicality, humane ideals -- still exist? Did it ever exist? And if it doesn't, who am I, what have I become, as "an American?"

It is hard to speak honestly when so much falseness and dishonesty -- in the government, in the media, even in the religious institution we look to first and foremost for hard and honest moral examination -- prevails.


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