Counting the Cars on the New Jersey Turnpike

Most nights, I read to my kids at bedtime.  Because they are ten-year-old twins with separate and competing interests, I have to read them separate things — usually a sports book for Caleb and some sort of adventure book for Sam.  We've read all the Harry Potters, George Vecsey's Baseball: A History of America's Favorite Game, most of the Star Wars novelizations, The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron by Howard Bryant, Colin Meloy's Wildwood series, and the very weird-but-cool FreeDarko Presents the Undisputed Guide to Pro-Basketball History.

Last year, I also folded in James West Davidson's A Little History of the United States, in part because the Jim Crow chapters of Bryant's stirring biography of Hank Aaron raised a lot of questions for the kids about issues of race in American history.  It's a lovely book, with the kind of economy of language and story-telling that would allow someone to compress 500+ years of North American history into about 300 pages.  It begins with the soaring birds seen by Columbus as he approached the continent in 1492 and ends with the dying birds seen by Rachel Carson in 1962, though the book reaches back further than Columbus and farther than Carson in between.  It's even-handed, throughout, with particular attention to the twinned (and also separate and competing) American values of "freedom" and "equality"— as excellent an introductory history for kids as any I could imagine.  It was a pleasure to read aloud — I felt, at times, like David McCullough narrating PBS' American Experience.

We didn't get to Davidson every night, or even most nights, because we could only read it once the other two chapter books had seen fair representation AND if both kids were still awake.  But when we at last came to the fortieth and final chapter last night, it was hard not to reflect on what was happening concurrently at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, on the divisiveness and hate-mongering at last week's Republican convention, and on the opposition to America's first African-American presidency.  In a final look at lingering conflicts from our national history, Davidson writes:
Puritans dreamed of a holy commonwealth where the saints would rule and the strangers in their midst would learn righteousness.  Jonathan Edwards saw the Great Awakening as the first fruit of “those glorious times” predicted in scripture, when divisions and conflicts would disappear.  These dreams of unity and harmony have propelled the peoples of America for centuries.

But the divisions didn’t disappear.  Madison thought long and hard about that problem as he worked on the Constitution.  A republic would always have divisions, he decided – factions, he called them. And they arose not just because people came from different parts of the world.  The causes of faction were “sown in the nature of man.”  Humans make mistakes in reasoning things out.  Their passions are easily aroused.  They are influenced by “self-love,” which blinds them to the viewpoints of others.  More important, people naturally divide because of their different circumstances in life.  Most often, said Madison, divisions arise because of “the various and unequal distribution of property.” . . . It was wishful thinking to believe that humans would ever find a golden age so gentle, a millennium so peaceful, or a commonwealth so holy that disagreements would disappear.  Or, as Madison put it, no government would ever manage to give “every citizen the same opinions, the same passions and the same interests.”

No, if there was to be a “more perfect union” binding together the people and provinces of the United States, it would have to come from crafting a government that allowed factions to work out their different interests – through debate, through a fair system of representation, through compromise, through laws passed.
This is the kind of government I believe in — the kind that does what private citizens can't be trusted to do, because of our self-love and our factionalism, and the kind that engages in debate and compromise.  The young woman I saw on cable news last night who displayed her Bernie Sanders tattoo and said she could vote for no one else is given over to self-love and factionalism, and I don't think you could find a better illustration of blinding "self-love" than the RNC's candidate, whose name is his brand and vice versa. Actual debate, meanwhile, doesn't really happen — the Republican-led senate has been avoiding it for years, and we're all well settled into our
own closed-system modes of news delivery.  I'm in the MSNBC faction, and the NPR/NYTimes faction.  I'm sure I know at least a couple of people who are at least considering voting for Trump, but they aren't people with whom I ever talk politics.  Or anything, much.  I certainly know people who are considering voting for Green Party candidates (something I did myself in 2000) or perhaps not voting, because Hilary's centrist/hawkish/corporatist past isn't something they feel deserves compromise or concession.
Sam, Caleb, and a friend watch the July 3 fireworks at the lakefront.
I fervently hope that Secretary Clinton's campaign will reach out to Senator Sanders' faction through debate, representation, and compromise, and not only to make those voters feel they can come into the larger tent despite the seriousness of their tattoos and convictions.

The Beckum Little League All-Stars take the field following a summer storm