Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
Emily Dickinson, Hope Is The Thing With Feathers
The storm in America is sore.
Those of us who know American history well, who understand how American government works, who have seen it in some of its worst days, want to maintain a sense that all things must pass.
But some of us who want to see a way past the current circumstances are having trouble assembling a vision of that path.
People have confidence in the checks and balances cleverly built into American democracy, and they are right to be impressed. You cannot say enough about the brilliance of the Constitution, the platform for history’s most durable and successful democracy.
But the founders and the Constitution presuppose sufficient people, particularly leaders, of the highest qualities. The list of those qualities is long and obvious. Honest, knowledgeable, capable, intelligent, brave, selfless, compassionate, just, on and on. There was never any expectation that America would be led by saints, just that when people and matters of government got out balance, other people and matters would step up to make it right.
There has never before been a time when it seemed there were not enough of those people with those qualities at the highest levels. We had no idea what happens to the elegance of constitutional America in those circumstances. Until now.
America—the America that knows and believes in the Constitution, American history, the rule of law, the system of checks and balances—must continue to plan and strategize a way past. But mere confidence that this is just one more difficulty that will be dissolved by electoral democracy, time and the American spirit may be misplaced. Which leaves us with hope. That thing with feathers, singing its tune.
Not many people had heard of the artist Shepard Fairey (“Manufacturing Quality Dissent Since 1989”) until he created the Obama “Hope” poster, one of the most famous pieces of art in modern American politics.
Since then, he has been spending his time creating, exhibiting and selling all sorts of provocative and eminently viewable art/propaganda on the beneficial edge of society, politics and culture.
He created the poster above for today’s Bernie Sanders benefit concert in Los Angeles. For those who haven’t looked for a while, or don’t know Shepard’s work, here is a sampling:
It is one thing to say that things could be better in America. Another to say that things are terrible, horrible, very bad.
At the moment, that seems to be a Republican approach to “lifting up” the nation and winning the presidency. Make sure we realize just how dire things really are and then promise to swoop in as our rescuer. First we kill all hope.
Hope isn’t dead. Crushing our current spirit for the sake of future dominance is a terrible, horrible, very bad idea. The more Bible-minded will recognize this as one of the tricks played by some legendary figures. See, for example, the Book of Job.
For a post-debate review of this, see The ‘Everything is Bad’ Party.