You may have seen on network news a video of an eagle floating past our town on a Mississippi River ice floe. Something inviting about the drift toward Memphis and New Orleans. Some days I just go that spot to read and pray. Other days I sense God saying, “Let’s go to the riverfront.”
On the day the network caught the eagle, I was invited to the river. I came away instructed, visited and enriched. I read thirty pages from Peggy Noonan’s book Patriotic Grace. (HarperCollins, 2008). The startling punch came from the date. 2008! Not much positive has changed in the ten years since; the issues have expanded. In 2008, she offered… “some rough thoughts on what I think we need.” Sound good for 2018.
“We need the best possible national defense, couple with an attitude of wisdom, forbearance, and peacefulness toward the world. A civil defense system worthy of the name. An America that is stronger at home—with a stronger physical and cultural infrastructure.”
The phrase was new to me and struck me like a blunt object: “Stronger cultural infrastructure.” What would that look like? Ms. Noonan says,
“…what we need right now in our national political life is a kind of patriotic grace, a grace that takes the long view, apprehends the moment we’re in, comes up with ways of dealing with it, and eschews the politically cheap and manipulative.” (page 147)
Last night part of the entertainment industry held their own State of the Union event. They called my wife, me, and some friends “the dark underbelly of America.” They pledged not to stop until they have swept America clear of about half of the population.
What would blossom into a “stronger cultural infrastructure?”
“…those things that ease the stresses we feel as a nation, the tears and divisions we feel, should be encouraged. We drive each other crazy. We fight as if we’ll never need each other. We fight like a drunken family hurling charges against each other in the living room while there’s a fire in the attic and it’s traveling down the stairs.” (p. 147-8)
Ten years ago, Ms. Noonan spoke of immigration:
“Why not be humane, be American, and recognize the moment we’re in. Take a pause, close the border to illegal passage now, for reasons of national security. Continue legal immigration, with an eye to one thing: admitting as new citizens those who bring particular skills our nation particularly needs.
“As for those who’ve come here over the past twenty years or so illegally…easy does it. There, that’s a platform for the moment: Easy does it. Those who break our laws, indulging in violent behavior? Send them back. Goodbye!”
“We must tend to the ties that hold us together as citizens of America.”
And what are those ties? Our history. A line repeatedly used in the third section of the book: “Let us recognize the moment we’re in.” Peggy Noonan quotes a 2002 speech by Bruce Cole who was then head of the National Endowment for the Humanities who observed the “American amnesia” or ignorance of the history that should hold us together. He said in that speech:
“Citizens kept ignorant of their history are robbed of the richness of their heritage…. A nation that does not know why it exists, or what it stands for, cannot be expected to long endure…. We cannot expect that a nation which has lost its memory will keep its vision.”
One of the “ties” that binds a civilized society is a modicum of respect. I feel protective of Melania Trump. I am angered by the attempt to trash her. I may hire the Andrew Jackson militia to drop by the potty-mouthed people’s platform to tap them on the shoulder and demand an apology to our First Lady. Among others!
The thirty plus pages I read stimulated me. It really is a fine piece of thinking and writing expressed with appreciation for both legitimate sides of the aisle. I invite you to read at least pages 133-160 of Patriotic Grace.
Thanks for reading this Benton Blog. email@example.com
D. Dean Benton–writer, wonderer