I don't often suffer from insomnia, but sleep came slowly after the outcome of the presidential election was announced ("Re-elected," Nov. 7). My good and valued friend of almost a half-century, Nat Asch, often says that "we're going to die at the right time." Not that he will say it this morning. Though I have not spoken with him yet today, I'm virtually certain he is delighted with the re-elected of President Barack Obama. (He and I approach most, though not all issues, from opposite ends of the political spectrum). I, on the other hand, am filled with a sense of acute despair. It probably won't last and, with the passage of time, will diminish to disappointment and, eventually, even that will likely be overcome by my native optimism. But not to the degree that was once possible.
I feel strangely alone today, a feeling I suspect is shared by others among the almost 50 million Americans who cast their votes for Mitt Romney. I wonder how I became a stranger in my own land.
During more than three-quarters of a century on this planet, I have come to believe in the greatness of America, a greatness fueled by the belief that this nation was founded to show the world how things can be when free men and women are allowed to pursue whatever dreams and ambitions they may have, unfettered by social or political agendas or the tyranny of those to whom power is the narcotic of choice.
I've been poor but never rich as richness is defined by financial success. The richness of America was enough. Over two-plus centuries, the well of the American spirit has been free to all, filled with a heady brew that seemed to make all things possible. In that brew were mixed an infinite variety of ingredients: honor, ambition, vision, valor, honesty, responsibility, a dash of recklessness for seasoning, a pinch of foolishness to remind us that human beings are sometimes fallible and, most of all, a sense of wonder that anything, absolutely anything, could be done provided we had the will to do it. We chose, as our mantra, "E Pluribus Unum," (From Many, One) as we invited others to join us and become Americans. But now, this stranger in his own land sees only the "pluribus" and wonders what happened to the "unum."
We created a government to provide structure and a sense of order, a structure in which the people, not the government, ruled supreme. We won our independence through eight years of blood and fire through the will of the people. We fought each other less than a century later and preserved the nation through the will of the people. We grew into the mightiest and most remarkable national entity the modern world had ever known through the will of the people. We saved the world and rebuilt it, not once, but twice, through the will of the people. We were the United States of America. But that was then.
In all fairness, it can be argued that we re-elected a president this week through the will of the people. But he leads a government in which its will is supreme: "The government giveth, the government taketh away, blessed be the name of the government." It gives all-too-freely to those who do little or nothing to merit its largesse, it spends what it does not have, and it takes with alarming recklessness from those through whose efforts and industry it exists.
And the "unum" is just about gone. The unity that once defined us has been superseded by the hyphen. No longer willing to proudly proclaim our status as Americans, we have become a Balkanized amalgam of tribes at cross purposes: African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, gay and lesbian-Americans, et al. The amalgam used in dentistry contains mercury and is, therefore, a slow-acting poison. No less poisonous is the tribal amalgam of 21st century America. And, not to be overlooked, are the many millions among us who are not, nor do they wish to be, U.S. citizens. They're just here to water at our trough and spit the dregs in our faces.
Around the world we are regarded with suspicion, amusement and, all too often, contempt. The America that sent the Great White Fleet around the globe, the America that rid the world of the unspeakable horror of Adolf Hitler, the America of the Marshall Plan, the America that turned back the invasion of South Korea, the America that brought down the Berlin Wall, snapped the fetters that had kept Eastern Europe in thrall for decades, and dumped the tyranny of the Soviet Union on the scrap heap of history has become a source of ridicule. We have become a global punch line, unworthy of the mantle of greatness we once wore with such distinction. A friend sent me a quote today from an editorial in Prager Zeitungon, one of the leading newspapers in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic. It reads, in part, "The problem is much deeper and far more serious than Mr. Obama, who is a mere symptom of what ails America. Blaming the prince of the fools should not blind anyone to the vast confederacy of fools that made him their prince. The Republic can survive a Barack Obama, who is, after all, merely a fool. It is less likely to survive a multitude of fools such as those who made him their president."
The president has been re-elected, and his slogan is "Forward." Toward what, I wonder? Toward the greatness we earned as the last great hope of humankind, or toward the abyss of mediocrity we are earning just as surely.
As an American in whom hope springs eternal, I am compelled to wish him well. I hope for the best. But it isn't as easy as it once was.
Alan Walden, Baltimore