I felt the wave of inspiration creeping back into me on that mildy chilly Saturday morning, as I walked to the historic city's Old Capitol, a building I've toured at least a dozen times before. Every time I come back, I learn something new, or at least I'm challenged to think about why we have the freedoms we have. That's why Colonial Williamsburg does what it does so well. During that tour, we sat around a table where patriots once sat, and your servant had the opportunity to read a clause from a document urging the free exercise of religion apart from the Church of England. The warm feeling of a heritage to be proud of stuck with me, even if the exact wording did not.
When ball time came, and I had adorned myself in my satiny homemade fineries, I found myself surrounded by dancing friends. I bowed countless times to many ladies, who returned them with curtsies -- which I never really saw because I bowed so low. I turned and led my partners in a courtly and regal matter through nearly two dozen dances. We laughed and enjoyed ourselves even through the mistakes. We worked as a team, uplifting and blessing each other. The afterglow from that evening left me nearly sleepless.
Then the next day at a Presbyterian church in Williamsburg, where I dressed in my kilt and long coat in honour of the church's Scottish heritage and in praise to GOD, I found myself once again surrounded by friends. Few times have left your humble laird feeling so close to Heaven, so close to HIM.
Then I had to leave the past and go back to work.
LATE BREAKING HISTORY: Let's go live to Willamsburg for this post-ball report. #WilliamsburgBall.Posted by Christopher Francis on Saturday, March 5, 2016
One week later, I saw people in Chicago ready to tear each other apart live on CNN. Just one week earlier, I was submerging myself once more in my favourite town from the past.
I had to wonder, how did we get here?
I can't tell you the starting point, but I've found a lot of mile markers along the way.
- When I saw people saying "Worst. President. Ever." about George W. Bush -- with the periods.
- When people started talking about "red states" and "blue states."
- When people started throwing moderates under the bus (despite kissing up to them later).
- When Facebook became a place where we could easily and conveniently hate on people in a place that supposedly is for "friends." (Tip of the tricorn to my dear Auntie Susan for suggesting this.)
- When GOP Representative Joe Wilson shouted "You lie!" during President Obama's 2009 State of the Union Address.
- When TEA Party members started piling on insults.
- When people started kicking up conspiracy theories about President Obama's birth and just wouldn't let it go, no matter how much evidence you presented debunking it.
- When Congress became a battlefield, not a legislative body.
- When people started talking about "'Murica," not America.
- When Senator Ted Cruz made a 21-hour filibuster (which technically wasn't a filibuster, but I say it was) on defunding Obamacare, an exercise that led to nothing but wasted time.
- When GOD, guts and guns replaced the Constitution and Bill of Rights in some people's minds as the lynchpin of our free republic.
- When Donald Trump entered the race.
- When he proved he could boost his poll numbers by getting angrier and insulting just about everything with a pulse.
- When he threw people out of his rallies, and people cheered it on.
I can only come to one disturbingly sad conclusion: We hate Congress, we hate Washington, we want to kill it, and Donald Trump is our hitman. Only Trump isn't armed with a pistol; he's carrying a 20-megaton H-bomb, because we would just love to see it nuked. He's our walking revenge fantasy. We don't care about the collateral damage. We don't care about the institutional damage. We don't care about the emotional damage. We just don't care, period. Dagnabbit, we're going to take our country back from those bums.
This is where you say, "What do you mean, 'we?' Is this the Royal 'We,' as in 'We are not amused?' Or are you talking about me?"
Yes, I'm going to talk about you. I'm going to talk about you because politicians don't come from another planet -- as I have said before. Somebody has to vote them in, and somebody has to accept responsibility for that vote. Maybe you didn't vote for that guy or that other guy. Somebody did. And somebody will vote for that guy or that other guy in the next election.
Tell me something, and tell it to me honestly: how many times, when you went into the voting booth, did you feel like holding your nose? You didn't feel like voting for anybody on the ballot. You felt like your candidates, your parties, and your country had left you behind. But still you voted for somebody, because somebody said you had to vote for somebody, and that the stakes were too high to waste a vote. Or you fell for that lesser-of-two-evils rationalization. Or you just sighed and said, such is life.
Ballots only show who you vote for, not who you vote against. They are bereft of nuance or conditions. You can't add in fine print or riders for the candidates to follow. You take the slate or you leave it. What if we had just left it? What if we had just written in, "None of the Above" every time we were presented with a lineup of less-than-desirable leadership? Through a sad pattern of compulsion, rationalization, and lowering the bar, we've slowly disenfranchised ourselves from the power we should have as the electorate. Or we just don't vote at all. People tell us in those get-out-the-vote messages that our vote is our voice. Why do we keep silencing ourselves?
I still believe some true servant-leaders run for office, but they're getting harder and harder to find. The more enlightened among us steer clear of politics. As I have told you before, who wants to work in the swamp that is Washington? Who wants to be dragged into the declining incivility and partisan warfare? Who wants to get pounded into the ground by dark money? Who wants to prove they're innocent of all the slimy, scummy behaviours we associate with politicians by default? The best and brightest among us in America know better than to run for office; they're too good for the job.
So now we're left with this vision of America microcasmed in Chicago: people who say they love America while they hate each other being influenced by politicians who say they love America but openly want to destroy it. It's a sad sight.
The long walk out of Williamsburg on the last day of my visit left your humble servant just as sad. I knew even before this blow-up we used to be better than this. We used to practice our honours. Politics might divide us, but at least we would dance together -- especially in colonial Virginia. No way would I swap centuries to live in 1700's America, but I know some beautiful things got left in our past, including our ability to come together. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson made up after some ugly campaigning.
I hate it when people take the inspiring outfits and flags of our Revolutionary War heritage and co-opt them for political purposes. That heritage belongs to everybody. Leave it alone. Politics has corrupted enough.
What's staggering is that so many people don't care. They want their hit man. They want their weapon. They will ignore or tolerate so many things so they can see their revenge fantasy against Washington executed -- and perhaps a few political enemies, too. I'm serious. How fortunate are we that we have not seen more political assassinations or attempted assassinations in this climate?
Yes, we've come to that, because we let it happen. Because we failed at the ballot box. Because we failed to encourage the right people to run and discourage the wrong people from running. Because we've politicized everything. Because we really don't love America like we should. Because it's more fun to hate than to love. Because we want revenge for the mess we don't realize we had a hand in creating.
I can't tell you how this will all end up. I can just pray.
And in the worst case, please bury your servant in Williamsburg. I already left my heart there.