By Margaret Tierney
Like most people, I have friends and family on both sides of the political aisle, but after some heated holiday dinner discussions during the presidency of Donald J. Trump, I concluded that the wisest course was to simply steer the conversation toward calmer waters and avoid talk of current events and politics all together.
Wait until Trump is out of office, I told myself, and things will get back to normal.
But, after the January 6th insurrection at the US Capitol and witnessing how so many members of the GOP continue to support the former president, and now, seeing Republican-controlled state legislatures all over the country introducing, and actually passing, legislation to limit voting rights, I’m realizing that something far worse than four years of Trump may be headed in our direction.
Our very democracy could be at risk.
I once told my nephew after a particularly heated argument over politics: “Us matters more to me than U.S.” In all honesty, I had neither the time nor the bandwidth to argue over basic facts, and the thought of going down the rabbit hole to argue policy issues with a Trump supporter just filled me with dread.
Instead, I’ve decided to find my voice by turning my attention to something all of us have in common and delving into my favorite pastime of reading great books about American history.
I know for certain that our Founders bequeathed to us a precious gift. They established for us the miracle of a Republic, the right of self-government, so that we the people could continue the task of creating a “more perfect” union.
Two and a half centuries later, even after so many have fought and died in defense of those principles, we tend to take the miracle of 1776 for granted.
Worse, many seem only to grasp half-truths about our early history. It was particularly galling to see the insurrectionists at the US Capitol dressed in tricorn hats, waving the Gadsden flag and shouting slogans from the American Revolution. As if George Washington, John or Sam Adams, Thomas Jefferson, (or even Christopher Gadsden, for that matter), would have supported a mob storming the Capitol to overturn a fair and open democratic election, where not even a scintilla of evidence to the contrary was supported by the courts.
Here are some books that reveal some honest truths about our early history, and I encourage you to visit Books on the Common to support a great independent bookstore and to get more recommendations. (Full disclosure: I’m a proud former member of the great team at the store.)
Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis offers a glimpse into some of the lesser-known motivations of our Founding Fathers; The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon Reed reveals a perspective on our early history from the view of people who were enslaved there. And Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer is a deeper dive into the sacrifices of some of the nameless Revolutionary War soldiers who carried the weight of history on their shoulders during one critical moment.
These works are not only great reads, but they’re a great choice for book clubs, too.
This area is also chock full of Revolutionary War history. There are a lot of small museums and outdoor parks to visit, where the stories of ordinary people living here during the Revolution really come to life. These honored and sacred spaces also really need your support after being hit hard by COVID.
This year, I’m making a point to read more books on the founding of our Republic, and visiting places like Putnam Park, Keeler Tavern, area museums and local historical societies.
Hopefully, very soon, we’ll be getting back once again to those extended family dinners. I’m looking forward to gathering again with friends and family from both sides of the political aisle, but I’m also deepening my understanding of our founding principles, so that when the opportunity arises, I’ll be able to calmly and forcefully raise my voice in support of my own new paradigm shift:
Us and U.S. are equally important.
Margaret Tierney, a Ridgefield resident, is a former journalist who now works in the non-profit field. The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column.