I love our country—as John McCain has said in the words immortalized by his death several days ago—not only as a nation made of diverse people and regions, but the ideals and ideas that have defined us from our earliest days.
It is without question difficult to have hope for our land. Our country is imperiled today by a terrifying moral and political failure on the part of the Republicans in Congress to impose boundaries on a rogue thug put in power by collusion with Russia, conspiracy with Putin and his oligarchs, and as an unindicted co-conspirator in the undermining of campaign finance laws. His crime family has a rent in the curtain of respectability that is growing hourly, revealing this shill for what he is.
We are divided perhaps more than during the Vietnam War between those who seem incapable of seeing through said criminally- minded self-obsessed thug, who are quick to buy into conspiracy theories, quick to believe what he says over the most sterling investigative reporting—who buy into his “victimhood,” how he whimpers to them that he is constantly criticized by the media, whose narcissism and shallowness eclipse the capacity most of us have to associate others’ negative view of us with our own bad behavior.
I do not want to despise my countrymen but I do because a flaw of mine is to despise stupidity, to call stupid otherwise good-hearted people conned into blind faith in our faux leader. I do not want to have contempt for other Americans because to do so is contemptible. But I do have that contempt that is rooted in the terror I and others have wakened with every day since the 2016 election.
To me, the Republican majority is itself spineless, cowardly, treacherous. If I had more Christian charity than rage I would find myself praying for forgiveness, perhaps even giving thanks for those of us who do see through the poseur in the White House, whose name I can no longer abide to speak, whose face I cannot bear to see. It is a flaw in me, I recognize, that I have prayed not for his soul, but that he meets with a well-deserved fate that gets him out of the White House via Marine One or casket.
It is a fierce love for my country that drives my rage, and wants to purge America of the white nationalists who underpin the poseur’s criminality—that wants to purge our country of the Judases like Stephen Miller who have imposed anguish on mothers and children whose crime has been to see America as a refuge from oppression.
I do not like my own powerlessness and for many years now, I have had contempt, even, for the idea of God.
It perhaps speaks volumes about me that I refer to God as an idea these days. For sixteen years I was steeped in the monotheistic morality cult of Alcoholics Anonymous, at one point returning to the Episcopal Church—then, when persecuted—and I was—turning away.
It is a lonely place to be, to consider faith a crutch, unquestioned fealty to religion or to a “High Power” another form of blindness and self-sedation.
I may seem far afield of what I said in the beginning—that I love my country but perhaps I am saying that I love and value the freedom to be as imperfect as I am and to speak my mind.
I am the descendant of a number of brilliant white Europeans who came to America’s shores to escape a despot king. I trace my genealogy to one John Jenne alleged to have come to Plymouth Rock aboard a ship named the Little Anne. A dutch brewer who brought an English wife and children with him.
I come from, on my father’s side, the Colonists whose names are not as familiar to me as those of my maternal ancestors. John Jenne fought alongside Miles Standish, Wm Coddington was a Quaker cohort of Anne Hutchinson and first governor of Rhode Island in the colony formed before the First Indian War. Note that invading Spaniards had earlier massacred tribes in the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico.
Descendants of these strands came to Albuquerque in her territorial days, at the inception of the railroad.
The Jenne strand married into the Swiss Stamms who arrived carrying butter and milk on dry ice, founding the Albuquerque State Fair, the Coddingtons paired with the Rodeys when my great-grandmother Minerva Coddington married Irish Immigrant Bernard Shandon Rodey, who was ultimately a member of the House of Representatives and friend of Theodore Roosevelt. “Mama Coddy” bore him my grandmother, who was sent to prep school in Washington where she was friends with Alice Roosevelt. Rodey founded the University of New mexico and the NM State Mental Hospital; his law firm exists to this day. Raymond and Roy Stamm were movers and shakers, Roy founding the ABQ balloon festival, his son Allen becoming an architect of the famous Stamm adobes readied for post-war families in Santa Fe.
My mother, Helen Jenne’ Stamm was the youngest of four children and bore me in 1948, having married my father, Stuart Robinson Andrews, himself a “son of the American revolution,” a Yalie and forest pathologist who became Army Captain Stuart Robinson Andrews and a medic in the Pacific Theatre. They were patrician Republicans and Episcopalians; she was a painter and playwright.
My parents brought me home to a tiny vintage adobe on Guadalupe Trail in the Rio Grande Valley—today, prime real estate. She hung the Jenne family crest over my crib—fittingly, a hand with a falcon sitting on it, and God love her, she wrote my “pedigree” in my baby book, throwing herself into trying to be the perfect 50’s mother and trying to mold me into the perfect daughter, enrolling me in ballet lessons, painting lessons, horseback riding lessons despite the manifold anxieties I had developed after spending part of my first year in a body cast to reset a congenital displaced hip and when I hated dresses, wanted to be a boy and a sheriff.
My father took me with him on forays into the nearby Manzano Mountains and down Route 66 past Shiprock, through Navajo Country.
Seared into me was a deep love of New Mexico atmospherics and culture, a deep sense of place that funded my patriotism—I grew into a poet of place, of region, within a country that saw my great-grandfather exercising the permissions of the white upper class in being elected to the U.S. house, where he advocated not only for the white citizens on New Mexico, but the Latino and Native American citizens as well.
I went to Duranes and Griegos grade schools with children of those my mother termed Spanish Americans, a reference to the influx of conquistadores who founded Santa Fe in the 1600’s.
My family took pride in its heritage, passing that pride to me and to my brother Stuart. My mother could be elitist but she would correct herself, in teaching me acceptance, love and tolerance of the little girls who lived in the barrio who were undeniably poor, kind, and my friends.
This is the America I love, the region in my blood and the people whose blood courses in my veins. That of my Aunt Winifred who was an outspoken journalist and archaeologist devoted enough to excavation of Chaco’s Anasazi ruins to publish a magazine called Digs. Of the women who gave birth with midwives in attendance, in the days before vaccines, sometimes losing children.
A father who served his country and endured emphysema without a single complaint, who in his cups crossed my boundaries, but who I adored, who bravely held our family together when my mother had a series of breakdowns and was committed to the very mental hospital her grandfather had chartered and had built on the desert outside Las Vegas. My own husband is a Texan, lover the West, critic of the works of Earnest Hemingway, author of hundreds of fascinating and beautifully told short stories and lover of dogs, horses and me– a Navy man, who has been devoted to his country and to his great credit cannot abide the walking misery we know to be the current WH occupant.
Regions, place, the totems and iconography of place all give rise to the American character of independence, vision, possibility—valor, honor.
We Americans, like all countries, have shameful episodes in the near past and going back many years to the slaughter of whole tribes– the conquest of the great Sioux, Wounded Knee; we have a history of racism and oppression of black people. We dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese when, my husband muses, we could have perhaps scared them into surrender by detonating them at sea.
We have a current terrible and terrifying circumstance in which an asset of Putin, a criminal with a crime family, someone power-crazed and allied with white supremacists, in the White House. We continue to be too cowardly to ban military grade weapons from public availability, thereby endangering our children.
But every day, America lives on in her fields and mountains, those who live unglorified lives of integrity and those who take a stand against tyranny and how we are being tested as never before.
It is imperative to keep America as idea, as emodiment of a good vision, alive in heart and mind despite the cynicism of those we have alienated. We may still hold up our heads and raise the fist against oppression.
We are still Americans and our country, America. It is about honor, democracy, an American legacy far more powerful and potent with story and courage than the machinations of he whose name should be anathema to us all, whose day of reckoning is on the schedule.
Then, let some kind of faith in a brighter future arise; let freedom ring.
This post is dedicated to John McCain.