Thoughts from 33,000 feet for this Wednesday from somewhere over the Midwest.
This morning I woke up and repeated a routine I’ve been doing at least several times a year since 1989 – I boarded a plane for the early flight from Missoula to Minneapolis and then on to what was then Washington National, now Reagan National Airport. As I passed college students who, like my younger self in days past, were making a pilgrimage to somewhere that is home for the holidays, it reminded me of that idealism that we all have at some point in life, when big ideas and far away places inspire us. For me, that place was Washington, D.C.
With this morning’s dawn also came the realization that, perhaps, our country’s collective disappointment in the election – not the result for all, but for most, the tenor of the very campaign itself – comes from our own loss of that idealism and the sense of pride in our democratic processes.
If I allowed that loss and the vernacular of the day to creep into my writing, I’d likely title this post “my trip to the ‘swamp,'” or something more biting.
But I won’t.
You see, I can’t. I can’t walk by the National Archives and our founding documents and not be inspired by the foresight of those, who in far more frightening times, were willing to risk everything for a better future. I cannot walk by the Lincoln Memorial and not think about the man himself, or his times. Or Martin Luther King and his famous speech on that ground. The grandeur of the Smithsonian Institution. I could go on – the United States Supreme Court, the Capitol and, yes, the White House.
And today, across Washington, D.C., republicans and democrats and independents, women and men of all political stripes, ethnicities and creeds, are working as public servants. Most work long hours for little pay. They will not become millionaires or billionaires. You will likely never read about them. But they may decide your Veterans Administration benefits claim or keep eye over your safety from their post at the Department of Defense. They’ll process your Conservation Reserve Program payments, or provide Medicaid reimbursements to your local hospital. Thousands of young students will answer phones and prepare memos for members of Congress. Others in the private sector, from ARRP, to the NAACP to the NRA, will spend time working on behalf of the issues we care about.
Are there things that can be improved in Washington, D.C.? Absolutely. Do we need to make sure our government is putting people first? Yes. But, to call the seat of our nation a swamp? No.
If we needed a reason, neuroscience tells us that how we use language, the very words themselves, is terribly important. Words reinforce our behaviors. If we want a job we love, we cannot wake up everyday and say “I hate the place I work.” If we want our government to be a “city on the hill,” then we cannot call it a swamp – or that’s precisely what it will be.
I understand that “drain the swamp,” is a catchy slogan, but you won’t find me using that phrase. Because there is something about making this flight today that reminds me again of that feeling from decades ago. Call me an idealist, but maybe if we all changed the way we talk about our democracy, our democracy itself would change. And what do have to lose by trying?
Just a thought from high above it all.