It is Friday and it is early. This morning I’ve got my coffee (Major Dickason’s Blend), a tangerine and a the expectation of a couple of days in the North Carolina mountains. As soon as Susan wakes we will begin our journey that will take us to the Blue Ridge.
This morning the slate-gray, overcast sky reminds me of those mornings when our military family was about to leave for another the post and, for me, a chance to re-invent myself on a blank canvas.
One morning — standing beside a military train from which I had just disembarked in Bad Kreuznach — I looked into a still dark German sky wondering what kind of life Landstuhl Army Hospital would hold for me.
As I stood in the pre-dawn darkness I was certain the United States was a solid source of goodness in the world. And, of course, knew that the Soviet Socialist Republic — its young soldiers now waking up about 100 miles to the East — was evil. That morning I believed I was “on the right side of history” however small, insignificant and insubstantial my own role.
My mother and father came from dramatically different geographies — South Carolina and Ohio — but agreed that Catholicism would be our theology. Both of my parents were attracted to the youth and the idealism of John Kennedy although they couldn’t wear political buttons to assert their preference on post.
My mother was southern-born and brought some of the Lost Cause sentimentality into the family. My father, who’s ancestor rode with George Custer, was secure in the seriousness of his medical research.
In our family there were some, peripheral notions of injustice and inequality — the enlisted families lived in separate, lesser housing.
But the U.S. Army in Europe (USAEUR) was integrated and every morning I rode the bus to Kaiserslautern American High School with black students. There were problems in Mississippi (in 1962) but those problems were not, as far as I could tell, manifest in Vogelweh.
Then, in the late 1960s, something changed. That something might have been the perceived futility and folly of Vietnam. Maybe the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were too much for our psyche to ignore. Maybe it was Richard Nixon and Watergate. Whatever it was we began to question our national character, our innate goodness.
This could be cyclical.
Every nation goes through periods of feeling positive, followed by doubt, maybe the United States needed to confess its sins and then seek absolution. Maybe this troubled passage is a healthy, necessary step on our way to recovery.
But the worry here is that rage that currently inhabits our social landscape will continue; the contempt for our Congress will metastasize; that redemption and recovery will not happen.
The concern is that the criticism, contempt and anger will spill over into some kind of conflict. That we will have a second Civil War.
One of my friends, a good friend, points to the current impasse in the Congress — and yes, I know the Democrats have a slim majority — as symptomatic of the death of representative government in the United States. He believes there is no solution.
And there is no argument that many in government refuse to compromise. They have a religious, faith-like certainty that they are right.
It does take one back to 1558 when the Brits were evenly divided between Protestant and Catholic and were busy burning and be-heading each other over their theological differences — differences that seem trivial today.
By 1583, these internal wars had weakened Britain’s Queen making her a target for assassination and invasion. France and Spain, both Catholic, thought this was the right time to invade, capture the tortured island, and drag the faithless Brits back to the Church and to the truth.
Our founding, slightly flawed fathers — Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton — knew how close Britain had come to collapse. They knew the danger of a make-no-deals, take-no-prisoners, burn-your-opponent-the-stake religiosity — and did their best to keep that pathogen out of their new compact. (And, yes, one can say that some of the compromises — like the electoral college and slavery—were bad.)
But this morning — as we prepare to leave for the cooler, temperate mountains — I choose to believe our fever will break. Like 16th Century Britain we will recover, continue our quest for perfection, and be a reliable source of goodness for the rest of the world.
Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at email@example.com.