Cassidy has a long post about the elections, in which she says she may be ashamed to be American. This is a sentiment I've often heard expressed recently, usually right after elections, and while her reasons are better than most, I think the approach is wrong.
It's not that she's wrong to be disappointed. A nation ought to finish what it starts, as a man ought to do so. There are ethical duties that, once undertaken, must be completed in spite of the misery they bring upon you. This is true even though you may have had an unreasonably rosy view of what the undertaking would involve: it doesn't matter. You are sworn.
Neither does it matter if you yourself were opposed to the whole idea at the time the decision was made. If we are part of a polity, we are bound to each other. We are partners, and as Ben Rumson said of partnership: "If I owe a man a hundred dollars, I expect you to stand good for me."
Last winter I wanted some firewood, so I went to the wife of the man from whom I bought it and asked her to have him bring by a load. I paid her, but apparently she forgot to mention that she'd been paid in advance during their phone conversation. He showed up with the wood, wanting to be paid -- but I wasn't home, having other things to do, and thinking the matter resolved.
My neighbor, a hardworking man with four kids to support whom I'd known only a few months at the time, he paid the woodsman in full. I never asked him to stand good for me if someone wanted money. He just knew I needed the wood, and he knew this fellow was 'a workman worthy of his wage,' so he paid him. He never thought to worry about whether he'd be paid back.
That's the kind of trust we called frith in the Old English. Frith is a word that is linguistically linked to "freedom" and "friend," but what it literally means is "peace." If we are willing to be bound to each other, to defend each other, we can create a space in which we can then be free. In that space, which we each defend in common, we can order our society as we please and choose. If we aren't friends, we aren't free.
And yet it is a fact about America that it isn't dependable. In the Civil War, Lincoln had to deal with a 'peace' movement that sought to undercut public support for the war throughout. He almost lost the election of 1864 to an opposition that made plain they would surrender to the Confederacy's demands. He would have lost it, except for the Battle of Atlanta.
Before WWI, America's long term friends found America disinterested in their support, in spite of the fact that the resolution of 'the Great War' would have major consequences for American interests. Nevertheless, Woodrow Wilson had to run on the slogan "He kept us out of war," while a popular hit was a song called "I didn't raise my son to be a soldier." Yet, less than a year after he was wrong in for another term, Wilson led a willing nation to war, and a new popular song was written: "I didn't raise my son to be a slacker."
In WWII, FDR had to support key allies for years through underhanded techniques like "Lend-Lease." The nation was simply not capable of becoming unified on the point of supporting the British and other allies against the Nazis and the expansionist Japanese Empire. The threat was clear enough, but isolationism was a powerful force.
The Cold War saw American will swaying this way and that throughout. Before the Korean war, we declared that Korea was outside our zone of influence. Then, when the war began, we decided to join it. We entered Vietnam on the basis of sending 'a few advisors,' and expanded to tens of thousands of men. We fought the war to victory in 1972, and then decided, largely for domestic reasons, to abandon the state we had won at such a cost. The result was that the North Vietnamese invasion of 1974, smaller and far less formidable than the '72 invasion, was able to defeat a South Vietnam cut off from even air support by a self-interested Congress.
In the Carter years, we had an executive so opposed to action that Afghanistan was almost lost to the Soviets. Carter's chosen Director of Central Intelligence, Admiral Turner, so undercut the CIA's covert operations that the DIA had to take over when action was necessary. Even at that, it took the support of the rebel Democratic Congressman Charlie Wilson to focus support.
A democratic republic of this sort cannot form stable decisions. China can. We can't. It's a strength of theirs and a weakness of ours, and it's structural. If you're an American, you have to live with that fact.
Nevertheless, we have other strengths and they have other weaknesses. That's not the point I wish to make here.
The point I wish to make here is the one Chesterton makes:
Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing -- say Pimlico. If we think what is really best for Pimlico we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne or the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico: in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico: for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles; Pimlico would attire herself as a woman does when she is loved. For decoration is not given to hide horrible things: but to decorate things already adorable. A mother does not give her child a blue bow because he is so ugly without it. A lover does not give a girl a necklace to hide her neck. If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. Some readers will say that this is a mere fantasy. I answer that this is the actual history of mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great. Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well. People first paid honour to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her....It is wrong to love America because it is conservative, or liberal; because it is the staunch defender of the free, or because it is always willing to hear new advice and rethink old decisions.
Let me explain by using once more the parallel of patriotism. The man who is most likely to ruin the place he loves is exactly the man who loves it with a reason. The man who will improve the place is the man who loves it without a reason. If a man loves some feature of Pimlico (which seems unlikely), he may find himself defending that feature against Pimlico itself. But if he simply loves Pimlico itself, he may lay it waste and turn it into the New Jerusalem.
It is right to love America because she is home; because she is ours; and that is enough. Feel free to lay waste and to rebuild, to destroy that within her which has gone bad and raise up anew what strength you can. Rethink the franchise. Amend the Constitution. Dare to think and say and fight for whatever will make her stronger than she is.
Never be ashamed of her. If you would love America, love her that way. Have faith even when there is no reason to hope. Love even when there is no cause. She is home. She is ours. That is enough.