Much has been said and written over the last year about people who believe they have lost – or are losing – their country, most recently, Thomas Edsall’s “Liberals Need to Take Their Fingers Out of Their Ears” in yesterday’s New York Times. Many of these people make up the core of Donald Trump’s support.
I have listened. I have read your books (Strangers in Their Own Land, Janesville, Hillbilly Elegy). I have traveled to the places where you live and work and talked to you there. I have learned a lot. Most of all, I have learned how little I really know.
I have listened to you. Now I ask that you listen to me, for I have lost my country, too, or at least I worry that it’s slipping away. I wonder if perhaps each of us is trying save only half a country, and we can succeed ultimately only by coming together, by building bridges to each other, by tearing down walls.
I want to tell you about my country, which has never been the simple place its most ardent boosters claim it to be, but which I do not want to lose.
My country has never lived up to its ideals, but it’s never given up on them either. From our beginning we consecrated human rights, even as we classified more than a tenth of our people as property. Our iconic statue welcomed millions of immigrants to our shores, where many of them lived in abject squalor. Our first president warned us against getting involved in foreign wars; our 16th presided over our deadliest war, in which we killed over 600,000 of our fellow Americans. A woman ran for president here 48 years before women could vote. Ours was the first country to protect the incomparable beauty of its wilderness, land we had appropriated from its original inhabitants whom we annihilated.
So yes, it’s a complicated story. But it’s a story, I think, that is worth trying to tell – the all of it in Jeannette Haien’s wonderful phrase. And over the next few weeks or months or maybe even years, I will try to tell it from my perspective. I’m not quite sure how, as I have no road map, but this is my life’s work now, so bear with me if you can stand it.