My dear friend Hecate is fond of calling Washington, District of Columbia her shining city on a swamp. It’s an apt metaphor for politics. Columbia, help us rise above the swamp, and shine again.
Columbia’s district isn’t quite as swampy as urban legend suggests. Still, it’s a good metaphor for politics, because that’s where human life starts: down in the mud and muck. As much as other religions would like to claim that there is some bedrock of truth with a capital “twue” that we can start from, my experience and belief lead me to see our foundations as much more earthy, organic, and prone to change. Like the old joke about the foundations of the universe, it’s turtles all the way down.
What’s amazing is that we can and do build great edifices out of those uncertain foundations. By virtue of our agreements with each other, our cooperation, and our valorization of certain principles, we raise up amazing structures and manage, more or less, to live in them. While we like to imagine our great monuments and governmental buildings of shining stone, and we splash the colors of the flag on anything that will stand still long enough, deep down at the foundations of this country are fragile pieces of paper and the agreements made by men – men whom we hold in esteem, yes, but men who were also flawed, and made of mud and muck just as much as any of us.
I have been saying since the emergence of the Tea Party that it is terribly dangerous to the functioning of a democracy and the system of representative government for people to elect politicians who proclaim their fundamental mission as NOT governing, politicians who claim that they do not believe that the institution they are going to be part of should exist in its current form and fulfill its current functions.
The Tea Party and other ultra-conservatives have announced from the beginning that their mission was to stop government from working the way it has been working. They have been true to their word. They have come to this shining city and rather than trying to participate in the building up, or suggesting different goals for building, or even just getting out of the way when they have lost a disagreement and multiple elections, they are actively hindering any progress, any ability to agree, any effort to raise ourselves up. They drag us back to the muck, kicking and screaming, and at the moment they have fulfilled their mission of stopping government from working.
Remember, these folks don’t really believe that the government should do much beyond run the military. It’s okay with them if kids don’t get cancer treatment and national parks are closed and so on – they’d rather see those things privatized anyway. This is why they were willing to take a shutdown, and insisted that it wouldn’t hurt people or the country very much. Being wrong has never stopped them before, and it didn’t stop them now.
So in these days I pray: Columbia, help us rise above. You stand at the apex of the building where our elected officials meet. Concentrate our voices, help us remind them that they are supposed to commit themselves to the rule of law, and of elections, and all the forms of life that help us build a shining city on swampy foundations and some pieces of paper and the ideals that even we can’t quite agree on. Columbia, help any who are willing to hear sense and to do their jobs within the institution they were sent to serve; help us to throw out any who insist on dragging everyone into the mud with them.
Columbia, help us rise.