What makes an American?

Originally published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette 1/23/2021

“A Promised Land,” by Barack Obama. (Penguin Random House/TNS)

January is a big month for me, it being my 88th birthday and all. This latest version of January will be recalled in the history books, not for me but for the manner of President Trump’s leaving — a scary trashing of the Capitol by thousands of flag-bearing Trumpian troops.

A week later the Congress impeached Trump for the second time! His followers’ crime puts them on a par with the Redcoats of 1814 — who burned our Capitol.

Seventy-seven ago, I left Springfield on a train full of Air Force volunteers. World War II had ended just five years before; serving when called to war in Korea seemed natural to my generation. A four-year tour lay ahead.

My favorite books are biographies of all stripes. Political tales for sure, because as a voter it’s important to know why and how people reached for political power. Histories are not far behind because context matters in the long run. My life encompasses every American president from FDR to JRB. Voting in every meaningful election is a no-brainer.

Like millions of citizens, I twice voted for Barack Obama. He and I share a love for the game of basketball and the American dream. His life story is well-known, and now enhanced by his new presidential memoir: “A Promised Land.” Meekins Library loaned me a copy, which I’ve begun but not finished. Yet, I quickly found agreement with Obama’s assessment that: “Our democracy seems to be teetering on the brink of crisis — a crisis rooted in a fundamental contest between two opposing visions of what America is and what it should be.”

On Jan. 6, 2021 we saw the ultimate clash between ignorance and governmental norms that loyal Americans have accepted as the jewel of our democracy — the peaceful transfer of power following an election.

Barack continues: “It’s embedded in founding documents that could simultaneously proclaim all men equal and yet count a slave as three-fifths of a man. It finds expression in our earliest court opinions as when the chief of the Supreme Court bluntly explains to Native Americans that their tribe’s rights to convey property aren’t enforceable since the court of the conqueror has no capacity to recognize the just claims of the conquered.

It’s a contest that’s been fought on the fields of Gettysburg and Appomattox but also in the halls of Congress, on a bridge in Selma, across the vineyards of California, and down the streets of New York — a contest fought by soldiers but more often by union organizers, LGBTQ activists, armed with nothing more than picket signs, pamphlets, or a pair of marching shoes.”

Georgia just elected two U.S. senators in two special elections. Barack Obama’s endorsement of marching shoes meant knocking on thousands of doors. Stacey Abrams and her workers spent a decade building toward the Biden victory of Nov. 3, 2020. Two new senators topped that success on Jan. 5, 2021 — Ralph Warnock and Jon Ossoff won big! I hope that you and I are witnessing the demise of Jim Crow in Georgia. In 1951, a young Northampton airman was speechless when a redneck Valdosta bus driver berated a black Air Force lieutenant, in uniform.

Barack asks a simple question: “Do we care to match the reality of America to its ideals? If so, do we really believe that our notions of self-government and individual freedom, equality of opportunity and quality before the law, apply to everybody? Or are we instead committed to practice if not in statute, to reserving those things for a privileged few?”

The Trump mob that invaded the Capitol were identified white supremacist soldiers and neo-Nazis misinformed by the president himself that his reelection was “stolen.” Their beliefs were aided and abetted by Texan Ted Cruz, a Harvard graduate and U.S. senator who knows better. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri is also well educated. Nevertheless, Hawley raised a white power fist in front of a mob heading toward the Capitol. Neither senator deserves a seat in the halls of power. Insurrection resulted from Trump’s stolen election lies — Cruz and Hawley should join him. Biden advises to leave them to the voters.

My Irish immigrant father made a switch from business person to victorious Northampton mayoral candidate on his first try. Most major office holders serve at lower levels while they grow in experience and supporters. Dad served three terms before being voted out. Most politicians’ popularity has a sell-by date, often because of the decisions they make in high office.

Remembering dad’s experience, I admire Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz’s decision to move on with his life at a date and time of his own choosing. Success in life is realizing that we all have something to offer. To take pride in one’s politics, business, education, social gains and the arts are worthy. But, after reading a lot of Gazette obits, being loved by friends and family tops them all.

Our new president will require tremendous support from every citizen because his to-do list is long and complicated. America is a great need of a good Joe to lead the America we love forward to health and prosperity.

God help and keep him. Amen.

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