A Shining City, Not A Walled Fortress

Tonight is New Year’s Eve. The years do seem to go faster the older I get….(As my husband likes to say, “Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end, the faster it turns.”)

This year’s New Year’s Resolution isn’t my usual list (lose weight, read more, be nicer to assholes). No, this year, my one and only resolution is to do everything in my (limited) power to make America America again.

This inspirational column by Ruth Marcus says it all, and says it far more eloquently and forcefully that I could. Marcus makes the essential point that one can loathe Donald Trump while loving America–that in fact, loving America pretty much requires detesting and resisting our accidental President.

I will share a couple of her observations, but I really, really hope you will click through and read the column in its entirety. (Maybe even print it out and frame it….)

Here, for me at least, is the comforting paradox of the age of Trump: I have never respected a president less, nor loved my country more.

This sentiment may startle. It may rankle, even. It comes in a week that witnessed the passage of the worst domestic policy legislation of my lifetime, followed by the now ritual but always repulsive lauding of President Trump. First by the Cabinet courtiers summoned for that purpose; next by Republican lawmakers willing to lay it on just as thick — even more nauseating, because they know better than the servile flattery of their words and because they occupy, theoretically anyway, a coequal branch.

After listing many of the ways this President has disgraced and embarrassed the nation, Marcus writes

Has there been a more embarrassing year for the United States? Thinking Americans cringe at what foreign countries and their leaders make of us and our president, with his reckless upending of international agreements, his bigoted and poorly executed travel ban, his unashamed ignorance, his reckless tweets, his endless susceptibility to flattery.

I particularly loved this observation:

Once we took for granted, as a given of American democracy, such fundamental values as freedom of the press, the rule of law, the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary. Now we have a president who veers between failure to understand their importance and deliberate efforts to undermine them.

He is similarly heedless of the qualities that have always made America great, most notably its willingness not only to enshrine these values at home but also to play a leadership role in nurturing them abroad. Trump’s America is bristlingly insular and driven by zero-sum selfishness. Mine is welcoming, idealistic and generous — a shining city, not a walled fortress.

That last line particularly resonates with those of us who know our American history. Even the Deists among this nation’s founders joined their more “biblical” compatriots in believing that they were bequeathing to the world a “shining city on the hill,” a country that would be a beacon of liberty and justice.

Marcus concluded with a timely reminder of the difference between patriotism and nationalism.

Those of us on the more liberal side of the political spectrum have too often and too easily ceded the mantle of patriot to conservatives. Indeed, there can be an off-putting, chest-thumping aspect to traditional, bumper-sticker patriotism: “My country, right or wrong.” “America, love it or leave it.”

George Washington, in his farewell address, advised fellow citizens to “guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.” It is hard not to recall that admonition when listening to Trump’s faux-patriotic posturing against kneeling NFL players and his demand that they show “total respect for our national anthem, for our flag, for our country.”

Real patriotism would be to recognize, as the Supreme Court did three decades ago in overturning a criminal conviction for burning the American flag, that “we do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.”

It has never been more important for real patriots to fight for the America of our moral aspirations. As Marcus says, “our fundamental fight is not against Trump. It is for America.”

Happy New Year.

Let’s get to work.


  1. I really wonder what would happen if the vast majority of states in the Union said “SCREW YOU!” and refused to pay their taxes! OR better yet – WE cut the pay of Federal Reps, Senators and even the President – every one – of them to $8.00 an hour! ~8) Now that is a nice thought to begin the New Year on! HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY!!!

  2. This blog made me do some deep thinking about my own love and support for my “country”; it made me question what Ruth Marcus means when she uses the term “county”. We can assume she is not referring to the geographical terra firma of the United States so we must move on to the original establishment of our government. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States of America and its Bill of Rights contained in the first ten Amendments. Or does her term “country” mean the people? Because it was and is the “people” who allowed the current precarious situation we are moving into in 2018 as our partially “deconstructed” government is defying all belief in America, Americans and Americanism for myself. And it appears to be defying the belief of many national leaders around the world. Trump has put us on a par with Kim Jong Un; neither of whom can get their fill of applauding themselves, aggrandizing their public persona and threatening one another in cyber space. Ousting Trump will be our first battle to win in this current Cold Civil War.

    I deeply and sincerely want to believe in my “country” but, being surrounded by Trumpites, watching my minimum financial security be eaten away, my health care costs rise as my coverage dwindles, have family members in hiding due to fear of Trump’s immigration policies and the list of laws going into effect tomorrow at state and federal levels deepens my fears.

    Losing Net Neutrality is still in its infancy; no way to know how deeply it will cut into our freedom of speech…or our wallets…or how many unchristian laws are in our future does not give me a “warm and fuzzy” feeling about 2018 and beyond. Not even Wikipedia can give an accurate number of active denominations of Christianity there are – in this country alone. We are facing the almost undeniable fact of Pence’s denominational choice in the near future due to Trump’s possible implosion, if not being ousted by a possible change in Congress. Will blogs like Sheila’s remain with us as-is or will they become cost prohibitive? Right now my monthly Internet fee is much cheaper than sessions with a psychiatrist and my only outlet for fear and frustration.

    “It has never been more important for real patriots to fight for the America of our moral aspirations. As Marcus says, “our fundamental fight is not against Trump. It is for America.”

    I agree with Sheila and Ms. Marcus’ reference to our “fundamental fight” but…will it become another “boots on the ground” with Americans against Americans as with the Civil War? Even if it does not come to that; what form will the already much needed 21st Century Reconstruction take to undo what has been accomplished by Trump, his administration and his Congress in less than one calendar year?

    I can only “work” through the Internet, signing petitions and donating to those organizations who can legally fight for our rights; I have two more donations ready to mail after this long holiday weekend and it is becoming a strain on my barely above federal poverty level income. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to be “American” to have to pay to maintain or regain my civil and human rights…but as Linda Ellerbee so aptly put it; “And so it goes!”

  3. Great thoughts from both of you! I read her editorial and your blog in its’ entirety and shared both on Facebook

  4. “Zero-sum selfishness” is a perfect description of the current administration’s policies.

  5. Thank you for your thoughtful insights; great thoughts. May all actually hear the value of your message.

  6. For 2017, it is out of the question to offer cudos, plural, to members of Congress, so I will offer specific Republicans a single cudo each. John McCain for his thumbs down on “skinny repeal”; Richard Burr for not being Devin Nunez, John Kennedy for openly challenging the fitness of a judicial nominee, who was clearly unqualified (let’s hope he continues to do that).

    I offer 1/2 cudo to Jeff Flake and Bob Corker for speaking openly about the unfitness of the current President. They night have gotten the other half, if they’d stuck to their principles and voted against adding over a trillion dollars to the deficit. Republicans in Congress have sold their souls to the devil. The fight for the soul of America means we have to turn them out in November. VOTE!

  7. Knowing your love of sports analogies, both essays hit it out of the park.

    Happy, Healthy and Productive New Year to all.

    And MAAA!!

  8. I have little to add to the brilliant insights of Sheila and Ruth other than to say we must persevere in our resistance to our present day King George who has no clue to governing and no interest in learning. I think this new year will bring millions into our streets, much as in even such authoritarian regimes as Russia and Iran (a sad but necessary comparison and a measure of how far we have veered to authoritarianism in less than one year). So Happy New Year to all and let’s continue to resist as though our democracy depends upon it – because it does.

  9. Sheila,

    “It has never been more important for real patriots to fight for the America of our moral aspirations. As Marcus says, “our fundamental fight is not against Trump. It is for America.”

    And it take much, more than just “preaching to the choir.”

    Happy New Year!

  10. I don’t think the USA is a democracy. The lawmaking in the past forty years has enriched the Oligarchs financial and granted them even more powers.

    We peddle lots of propaganda to support the reason for our military which is looking more and more like private contractors who operate in foreign countries without accountability. I’m not interested in waiving a flag or encouraging my sons or daughter to “fight for our freedom”. That statement is a fraud.

    We really are falling into the dystopian vision of Orwell but it will never become mainstream thought because of the spewing of media propaganda versus truth-seeking.

    Trump is just a symptom of the disease. When Bernie Sanders says, “the system is rigged”, the pundits just gloss over it and move on to a jobs report or stock exchange performance.

    Americans don’t want to fight for anything. They want to be entertained. They want less reality and more virtual living. Escapism is fueling our national opioid crisis and drug addiction problems. But there are less obvious ways to escape. Alcohol. TV. Books. Video Games. Smartphones.

    The best measure for our country should be the Happiness Index and Social Progress Index so we can see if our economic structure is truly serving the needs of the people and making us happy. Isn’t that the goal?

    The Happiness Index tells a great story. The USA was rated 3rd in 2007 but it’s steadily dropped to 19th.

    That should be the narrative of the media in this country. Why are we declining? Who is accountable? How can we fix it?

    If you live within the 1% richest Americans, I’m guessing they’re pretty happy and proud of America. However, if you were born into the working class or 99%, struggling from check to check, I doubt they see much purpose in this existence. Escapism is probably the treatment.

  11. We are living such an important lesson now. How many are capable of learning from it and how many are so hooked on entertainment in every purse, pocket, and room to give it any heed? We don’t need to outnumber them by much thanks to democracy. We do need to out work them.

    There’s 2018 laid out for us, the Civil War part II without gun or cannon.

  12. Union General Carl Schurz said: My country right or wrong; when right, to keep her right; when wrong, to put her right. This quote IMHO, highlights the differences between, blind nationalism and patriotism.

    Schurz had two other quotes that resonate through the ages:
    Ideals are like the stars: we never reach them, but like the mariners of the sea, we chart our course by them.

    From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor’s rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own.
    If you want to be free, there is but one way; it is to guarantee an equally full measure of liberty to all your neighbors. There is no other.

  13. Half the people registered do not vote – turnout in Virginia was only up from 43 to 47%. Then there are millions beyond that who are not registered. The best I can says is that we have fertile ground, but are unproven in our ability to motivate.

  14. The 2018 Primaries are as important as the November elections; please remember that, learn the date of your state Primaries and check you voter registration. The candidates we select will be the ones we will have to vote for; do not neglect to know who to select to run in November or we will remain in this stagnating situation.

  15. when i drive,i see America, when im home,i feel American. when im speaking out against this sham white house,and its majority,i speak American. I am a American..I do not, speak against its democracy,but the ones deny it to everyone. Many Americans died to keep this institution alive. Its been a dismal past year,watching,and knowing,those who died defending the America they died for,insulted,and brutalised by so called Americans.

  16. We still need to have that margarita and commiserate—and toast what we hope will be a much better year.

  17. I was marveling at the awakening of my 22 yr. old granddaughter that one can’t really sit one out when we gathered in denver two weeks ago for our western family Christmas celebration. In her first Presidential election to vote, she couldn’t vote for the Hustler, woman abuser. The stories on H.C. corruption got to her and she didn’t like that. So she didn’t vote in her first eligible Pres. election although having registered and looking forward to it. Now she’s hating that she didn’t choose the best of the bad, as she’s horrified at the worst of the bad.This led to a long family discussion we didn’t have enough time to finish. Our hope is that this awakening is occurring throughout many of our young and that they are stirred up enough to do something about it.
    Choosing democracy vs zero sum selfishness is a plausible way to market the battle. It seems the young will rise to this battle as they see the effect of zero sum selfishness. The key is to do this in a way that will keep us united.
    I like the way the thinking of Gerson and Markle and others are brought into the evolution of how we go about fighting this battle for democracy.
    Thanks for all your shared thinking, Sheila. It helps my analysis and thinking about what can be done.
    Happy New Year all. Together , staying together, we can rescue America from the foul smell, foul words, foul acts coming out of the would be dictator led wash. and patriotically save this democracy we love (borrowing from R. Marcus).

  18. Gosh, Todd, your dystopian view of the country sounds like you write Trump’s speeches.

    It’s great to identify the problems, but, as Bobby Kennedy mentioned, without a solution or alternative idea for fixing those problems, the complaints do no good.

  19. Well thought out comment. Completely wrong but well thought out and clearly expressed. First, the wall was voted on in Congress with the support of Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton who railed against the unprotected border. It just has never been funded. Second, the writer clearly will laud the “accomplishments” of the previous administration who stood by while over 30,000 emails were destroyed, blackberrys were busted with hammers, 20% of our uranium was sold to Russia and the former President on a hot mic told the Russian foreign minister that he could be “more flexible” after his reelection. Not to mention the famous red “reset” button for our relations with Russia and the standing by to watch Crimea be taken by Russia. Meanwhile we worry about collusion…how amusing and sad.

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