Finding America Starts At Home

This week’s Courier Herald column:

A year ago about this time I wrote a column called “America The Beautiful”, in which I described an 8,000-mile road trip.  The overriding point of that piece was that the real beauty of our country is in its people.  This is best experienced and appreciated in person, and I remain grateful I had the opportunity to do just that.

What a difference a year has made.   I had hoped for a bit shorter trip in duration but longer in distance this year.  It became clear by early March that overseas travel probably wasn’t in the cards. 

Now that we’re into July, I’m not even sure when the next road trip will be.  Prudence and patience are not always my best virtues, but the thought of traveling while not being able to experience much of what the country or even our state has to offer – from major attractions to basic counter service at a breakfast diner or a late night watering hole – has me staying pretty close to home.

One of the best ways I was able to be with our fellow Americans on last year’s trip was to turn off social media completely and minimize national media outlets as much as possible.  Instead, I was present locally, wherever I was.

Despite now staying mostly at home, I’ve decided to do the same with my media consumption this month.  Consider it a self-imposed sabbatical from a constant drumbeat of negativity.

This isn’t to say the problems we’re facing aren’t real, or aren’t worth our attention and discussion.  It is instead to say that screaming at people on Facebook and/or listening to the cable news or radio host you agree with the most won’t solve anything. 

These activities, instead, seem to allow each of us to self-isolate into groups that affirm our opinions and tell us what we want to hear, rather than to experience America as our founders envisioned.  America, according to George Washington, was the last great experiment in promoting human happiness, by reasonable compact, in a civil society.

It seems these days few are happy, the word “reasonable” can scarcely be used, and civility itself – online and in person, is rare.  If Washington were able to observe the way we’re executing the Republic today, I could imagine his response would be an eighteenth century version of “you’re doing it wrong.”

Among the biggest issues with the modern execution of American citizenship is that we’ve turned politics into a spectator’s sport.  Hanging on every word of Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow isn’t political participation.  It’s being an avid fan of a tragic soap opera with an invested narrator.  It also belittles the very foundations of our country.

Self-government begins at home.  If you can describe every parliamentary maneuver Congress is making on legislation that is designed to get headlines rather than make it to the President’s desk, but can’t name your local school board member or county commissioner, you’re doing this wrong.

We have divisions among our branches of government, as well as differentiation between federal, state, and local governments.  Each has a role, and a function. 

If your goal is to be entertained, then Washington and the political entertainment class will always make sure there’s a show.  If you want better government, then be more involved locally.

We’re four months from an election, and it’s going to be harder than ever to get out from the bubbles we’ve self-selected.  The Covid-19 pandemic continues. We’re at home more and seeing other people less. 

The beauty that is America and its people is still here.  We’re a bit frazzled at times, and it may be harder to filter the negative right now in order to see the positive. 

My suggestion is relatively simple: Limit your conversations that either attribute all problems to politicians in D.C., or even worse, believe all solutions begin there.  We’ve all been overserved with this form of entertainment.  Instead, talk and act locally.  You’ll find America and its goodness all over again.

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