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America Is No Longer That Shining City Upon A Hill

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LINCOLN MEMORIAL
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My wife and I recently spent five days over the Memorial Day weekend playing tourist in Washington, D. C. It is an impressive city populated with grand buildings and memorials celebrating the history and culture of a great nation. Yet, like the recently repaired cracks in the Washington Monument, I couldn't help noticing the cracks in America's philosophical edifice.

The most striking contrast came on Memorial Day when we visited the Lincoln Memorial and read the stirring words of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural speech etched in stone on either side of his statue. Just the day before, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, addressed a sparse crowd of veterans in front of that same monument in a decidedly un-Lincolnesque manner. He belittled a U.S. general, called reporters "lowlifes," praised former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight and claimed that illegal immigrants get better care than military veterans.

How far America and the Republican Party have fallen, I thought, if this is what now passes for statesmanship and inspirational speechmaking. I could almost imagine a tear or two falling from the Lincoln statue's eyes.

Later that day, we visited the Vietnam Memorial, a moving reminder of that ill-conceived, hubristic and ultimately tragic war. One can't help but be touched when viewing the more than 58,000 names of those who died that are etched in stone. The unstated message of this simple, low-slung, black granite memorial is "Never again."

Sadly, that message was ignored a mere 28 years later when America again stumbled into another ill-conceived, hubristic and ultimately tragic war. Clearly the lesson of Vietnam was lost on those who needlessly sent thousands more Americans to their deaths. There should be space reserved along the reflecting pool for another humbling memorial, this one dedicated to the fallen of the misadventure that was the Iraq War.

The FDR Memorial on the Tidal Basin exhibits the best of America -- a nation in the 1930s beaten down by the Great Depression. Franklin Roosevelt did what it took to rescue the country from disaster and to provide for the weak, infirm and powerless. That contrasts with today's resurgence of greed and selfishness resulting in a widening of the wealth gap and a seeming contempt for those in need.

Nearby is the Martin Luther King Memorial, a powerful reminder of the man who helped America finally face its racist demons some hundred years after the elimination of slavery. But 50 years beyond that, there remains a barely hidden undercurrent of racist sentiment throughout the land.

Even today, I see a nation that has yet to publicly apologize for its racist past and a Republican Party that has hamstrung the current president with its subtly racist agenda. Maybe it's time for a new memorial, one acknowledging America's racist past and present, offering an apology to those who were harmed and those still affected.

The noble sentiments represented by the MLK Memorial also serve to underscore the continuing efforts by some Americans to segregate the LBGT community from the mainstream. Just as America failed to learn the lesson of Vietnam, many have failed to learn the lessons of the Civil Rights era.

A guided tour of the Capitol Building demonstrated how far America still has to go. Our guide led us to Statuary Hall where each state gets to choose two people to be honored with statues. Despite the fact that states are free to replace statues, the hall still includes several "heroes" of the Confederacy, including the pro-slavery traitor Jefferson Davis.

The Confederate flag is finally coming down from southern statehouses some 150 years after the Civil War. Isn't it time those statues came down, too?

On our final day, we visited the Library of Congress and the National Gallery of Art, two examples of the grandness that is Washington and America. They gave me hope that the best of America will yet win out against today's forces of greed, division and destruction. Hopefully on my next visit to Washington, I will again see that shining city upon a hill that America once was.

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