Window over Washington: Tangled up in red, white, and blue

And what we’re doing about it

vol. 2 issue 34


This time last year, I had a blistering migraine but it was the Fourth of July, so too bad for me. At the time, despite the angry pain in my head, the heat of the summer, and the holiday, that accumulated to a kind of rah-rah, boom-boom tone around me, I felt pensive and melancholy for this country that I love. I lay in the quiet, musing how our rotting, stinking patriotism was causing me more grief than my aching head. I ended up thinking about a weekend I spent in rural Ontario, one summer years ago, at a music festival where patriotic hippies and celebrities alike unapologetically flew their national flag, and why that would never happen here.

This is what I wrote at the time:

I just wish that I could fly the flag, pledge my allegiance, and love my country without it being co-opted by one and scorned by the other.

As I write this from where I am vacationing with family in Tennessee, I realize this is a desire that will go unfulfilled this year. That is because back home where I now reside in Washington, DC, the nation’s annual Independence Day celebration is underway, reflecting what divides, not unifies, these two camps of Americans – flag lovers and flag hesitators, I will call them.

Now, headache-free, stuck in Washington because of the pandemic, I am thinking about my observations in that essay, including this about the president’s military display at the Lincoln Memorial:

That makes me wonder if in fact this day with tanks and fly-overs is not just the designs of a generalissimo-styled leader, but the inevitable end to years of “Us v. Them” displays, and that it was naive not to suspect it would progress to a battle of better-thans and division.

And hasn’t indeed come to that?

As many of you are aware, last week I decided it was time to stop observing what’s become of our democracy and to start dreaming of what it might become instead, with the intention of turning those dreams into an action plan for creating a democracy that isn’t tainted by the past. I also stated that I did not want to go on this journey alone, and as it turns out, I am not.

It was gratifying to receive so many emails from readers in enthusiastic support of my declaration. I lost only two subscribers, yet I gained many more.

It is exciting, humbling, and even daunting to realize that I am not alone when I say I am tired of the finger-pointing, the anger, and the hopelessness that has culminated in this dark moment in our shared history. These things do nothing but keep us, with apologies to Dylan, tangled up in the red, white, and blue affliction of the American Dream that was for some, never for others, and either way will never be possible again.

It was my fondest hope that I would see the glimmers of a community forming around this declaration, but saying it “out loud” still felt vulnerable. I am still not sure where this will take us, but I am resolute that there is no mapping of our national mind until our sadness for what was, what could have been, and what will never be has been faced and integrated.

For that, we will need ritual.

Coming the week of July 13 is the first in a series of docu-mental: healing the american state of mind. It is a video interview I have already conducted with Gwendolyn Reece, PhD, an academic and Hellenic high priestess based here in Washington, whose own video about the Greek tragedy trilogy The Oresteia, by Aeschylus, stopped me in my tracks. Her concise, lucid description of how when a nation is founded on “wrongful” sacrifice, there is never peace in the land is in a word, bracing. Both in her video, and in our interview, Dr. Reece explores the many ways we have indulged in such wrongful sacrifice, and considers what might be a healthier way to show respect to the goddess Athena, bringer of democracy, so that we can build and sustain a just government.

Following that, I have already lined up interviews and materials to help us explore what are the essential building blocks for a fresh democracy and a new national reason for being. We will look at how we might create and fit those separate pieces into a greater whole. This includes an examination of the role of theater for disseminating the new and necessary stories that will bind us together and give us meaning; a discussion of what defines community and how to support those within it in an inclusive but not entitled way; and also, what are the best ways to educate our future leaders? And so on…

For me, dreaming a new American Dream is not some silly exercise filled with puffery and nonsense. I am deadly serious in my commitment to this. After decades spent writing about health, medical, and economic policy, including in the well near 100 essays and podcasts of docu-mental, which, in my quest to create herd immunity to anxiety and depression, have often explored how our politics and policies have led us to nowhere good, I know we will need practical steps to follow.

But policy is where vision has been constituted into forms. We need the visions first.

But we also need a group of us. Even though I cherish the personal emails I receive from you, if you’re comfortable with doing so, feel free to start using the comments section to leave your thoughts and constructive ideas. I am exploring using social media more, but honestly, I don’t want to waste energy on things that frustrate me, and social media tends to do that. Here on this platform, I still seem to reach plenty of people who are looking for a new way.

We don’t need millions, just enough.

That goes for both people and money, so if you would please forward this to others who are like-minded, and encourage them to become a contributing member of the community that is forming, I would be grateful, and I suspect others who are starting to invest their resources in this concept would, too.

My intention is to pour whatever funds are raised during this phase of the “healing” into the community in order to pay for transcripts of the discussions, higher production values in the podcasts and videos, and whatever else would enhance the sense of shared momentum.

Feel free to make suggestions of what you would like to be considered. If you don’t see progress being made toward a collection of actual steps that could result in a more productive and healthy democracy, you can pull your subscription commitment. Much of what we will do will occur behind the pay wall, but this initial video with Dr. Reece will, at least to start, remain public.

If you’re not already a contributing docu-mental subscriber, I hope you’re fired up to become one now!

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Despite the pain all around us, the pandemic, the hollering and the hating, there is good in the land. You are part of that good. I wish you the best of health and happiness this Fourth of July. Maybe this time next year we’ll be celebrating our national birthday with a renewed vision of what and who we are.


Photo: Pixabay