Another July 4th, another chance to evaluate the grand experiment, this America of ours. When Emma Lazarus wrote this poem, the nation was only a few decades from the formal end of the Civil War. The same war-originating tensions - between states rights and federalism, between property rights and individual rights, betwen the entitled and the disenfranchised , between the educated and the ignorant, between the Northern European settlers and immigrants - were tensions existing since the Founders first wrestled with the question of nation-forming. Although the Civil War ended, the remnants of confederacy never really disappeared. Yet, the nation survived and prospered.
These historic tensions are evident today. The complexity and nuanced compromises of the Founders' positions resulted in a flexible structure which would serve the ages but, by its nature, would also be open to interpretations. I don't know that the Founders, men educated by the Enlightenment, would be amused by the likes of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin simplifying these very nuanced and sophisticated founding documents to support shallow, uninformed and divisive political postures.
Today's America is fractured, divisive, browning demographically. It is a nation still wrestling with its founding tensions, a nation struggling to shake off a corporatization that mirrors a monarchy, a nation with growing pains and facing modern challenges to redefine its place in the world. The neo-confederacy is re-emerging into the sunlight and we dare not squint. What is at stake is the heart of America, that nation symbolized by the Lady who invites all to reject the old model and walk through the golden door.
Artwork: LeRoy Neiman