In the wee hours of this Thursday morning, after all of the bags were packed and some of the bills were paid, as my daughter snored lightly in the room across the hall and my wife lay in bed with a book on her lap and glasses still resting on her nose, I set out across the Internet for one final time before shutting the computer down for the next three weeks.
The usual haunts were on the docket, but before I turned in myself I wanted to see video of former President George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch at Game Three of the 2001 World Series on October 30, 2001, less than two months after the crisp, clear Tuesday morning in September that changed everything. So much had been made, yesterday, about President Barack Obama’s lackluster performance at the start of Tuesday night’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game–during which he emerged to a fair amount of boos, bounced a baseball to a waiting Albert Pujols, and looked more cricket bowler than major league hurler–that I wanted to see for myself.
Any desire to poke fun at our sitting president, however, was lost in something else. Another feeling. Another emotion. I found myself overcome.
I miss America.
By the time this piece is scheduled to first touch the pages of America’s Right, I’ll be well on my way out of my beloved country, my bulky six-foot-three-inch frame crammed into an economy-class seat next to a three-year-old girl who likely wants nothing to do with the seat belt across her lap, nonetheless the eight hours of airborne time which follows. But it’s not because I’m leaving that I miss America. I missed America even in the wee hours of this morning, sitting at the computer in my guest room. See, it’s not only America in general that I miss — I miss the America I saw as autumn turned to winter in 2001.
No, I don’t miss the grief, still burning from fresh wounds and still-smoldering piles of twisted metal and ash in Lower Manhattan. No, I don’t miss the uncertainty. No, I don’t miss the fear.
What I miss is the America that stood with pride as its president emerged on the field at Yankee Stadium, looked around at 60,000 flag-waving New Yorkers, give a much-needed, confidence-inspiring thumbs-up, and threw a perfect strike from atop the pitcher’s mound. I miss an America that stood defiant against those who wished us harm. I miss the flags. I miss the solidarity. I miss the sense of purpose, the idea that the health, welfare, safety, security and prosperity of our great nation in the face of evil triumphed over matters of politics and ideology.
That’s what I miss. That’s what I will miss later on today, as I watch America disappear outside the window of our airplane. This afternoon, I leave behind a nation run by elected officials who hold the prospect of power in perpetuity in higher esteem than prosperity, growth, security and freedom. It’s a nation I no longer recognize, and every single day she seems to be the apple falling further and further away from the Tree of Liberty. We’ve departed radically from the ideas and ideals of our founders, and we’ve done so in a relatively short period of time.
This weekend, for example, I will likely visit St. Mary’s Cathedral in Koszalin, Poland, the Roman Catholic church in which my in-laws were married so many years before, a structure which was built in the early 14th century and still to this day hosts Mass nearly every day of the week. Though I am far from a Europhile, St. Mary’s is part of the history that astounds me so much about Europe. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that some vacuous, America-hating Hollywood starlet pointed out that an old home or building in Europe could be nearly a thousand years old if not more, while our oldest structures date back not even four hundred years. Whoever she was, she made the point in an attempt to deride our nation as lacking in terms of class and polish, but the heart of the matter should not be dismissed in kind.
When you consider the prospect of taking Holy Communion in a 700-year-old church, and when you think about the generations of Poles who have done the same before you, it really puts into perspective just how quickly we have managed to squander our freedom here in the United States of America, how startlingly fast we have managed to disregard the warnings and overcome the protections given and put into place by our framers.
It has been 233 years since we declared our independence from Great Britain, since so many brave men fought, bled and died for it on the battlefields of Brooklyn, Princeton, Saratoga, Germantown and more. And it has been even less since those imperfect men who emerged from the American Revolution as leaders, orators, and patriots set forth a system of government designed to countermand human nature when it came to the trappings of power.
Our framers established this nation knowing less of what they wanted America to be than what they wanted her to never become. And yet, despite the lessons of history here in America and across the world, we purposefully sprint in the direction of everything our founders did not want for this great experiment in liberty and freedom. After 233 short years, we stand to willingly destroy the very notion of American exceptionalism, we stand to willingly part with the independence and freedom provided by the blood and sweat and sacrifice of so many, all in the name of the very same brand of governmental power grab against which our founders launched their improbable effort in the first place.
It makes me sick. In a matter of several generations, we’ve changed from a nation led by people who would rather die than be denied liberty, who lament having had but only one life to give for their country and the cause of freedom, to a shrinking violet ruled by a class of people far more interested in the content of their wallets and the labels on their office doors than of the state of our union.
The road by which we’ve arrived at this destination is easy enough to discern. Read our founding documents, and read the contemporaneous writings of our founders, and you will find that, more than two centuries ago, those former colonists–the ones dismissed as relics by the very people who depart from their ideals–knew exactly what could happen. We all know how we got here — the question is how to turn this nation around.
I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I do know that, like back then, we must depend upon equal amounts fortitude and Providence. Understanding the disease may be an important first step, but making the essential sacrifices and putting forth the necessary efforts to defeat it takes a special kind of person.
As a cold winter approached in late 1776, as the rag-tag American army licked its wounds following a set of horrible losses along the Hudson, a young Thomas Paine wrote that “[t]yranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph . . . Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”
The America I saw in late September and October of 2001 knew the glory of freedom. That America knew that our nation was different than the others, greater than the others, and was willing to do everything necessary to preserve that greatness. That’s the America I miss now as I cruise out over the Atlantic, and that’s the America I am determined to work to once again bring about upon my return in three weeks’ time.
Together, we can do it. By God, our founders showed us that all it takes is determination, sheer will, and an appreciation for that celestial article of freedom — and that, friends and neighbors, we have in spades.
As I depart my beloved America this afternoon, I’d like to leave you with the words of our first president, the orders sent by General George Washington to his men on July 2, 1776, two days before Congress signed our Declaration of Independence from tyrannical Britain:
The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves, whether they are to have any property they can call their own, whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and they consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will probably deliver them.
The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us no choice but a brave resistance or the most abject submission. This is all we can expect. We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die.
Our own country’s honor calls upon us for a vigorous and manly exertion, and if we now shamefully fail we shall become infamous to the whole world. Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the cause, and the aid of the Supreme Being in whose hands victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble actions. The eyes of all our countrymen are now upon us, and we shall have their blessings and praises if, happily, we are the instrument of saving them from the tyranny mediated against them. Let us therefore animate and encourage each other and show the whole world that a freeman contending for LIBERTY on his own ground is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.
God Bless the United States of America, the America of then, the America of now, and the America we will forever be.
See y’all in a couple of weeks.