Wherein I call for the next Republic
[Peace and Justice Files columnist Skip Mendler left the United States on January 19, and is headed toward the Eastern Mediterranean to help with refugee assistance. He’s making a few stops along the way.]
LAGE VUURSCHE, THE NETHERLANDS — In the course of the years, I have had relationships with a number of cars—most of which have ended badly. My dear early-model Honda Civic took me cross-country twice, but eventually dissolved in winter road salt. My little Ford Festiva hydroplaned on the Northeast Extension on the way home from a demonstration in Philly in 2000, bouncing off a concrete divider while Don Henley was singing “End of the Innocence.” And my Hyundai Elantra—well, it got to the point where we just couldn’t afford the upkeep anymore. And then I realized that I didn’t really need it anyway.
Governments are kinda like that. For one reason or another, you have to get a new one every once in a while. They wear out, or break, or some calamity comes along and makes them unusable, or the cost of maintaining them becomes unsustainable.
I’d like to suggest that we are at that point.
I’ve been in The Hague for the last few days. Yesterday was Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, and my walk to the MC Escher Museum (highly recommended, by the way) took me past the U.S. embassy. Unlike most of the other embassies—indeed, unlike the Dutch Parliament or the royal residences—ours stood behind a high iron fence, ensconced between police command centers, foreboding and unwelcoming, more like a prison or fortress than anything else.
Something about that hit me hard. The day before, I had encountered a demonstration by some Sudanese folks, pressing for the arrest of President Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes but not arrested, and I had of course spent the morning getting caught up on the news, reading about gas attacks and retaliatory bombings.
Looking at the flag over the embassy, thinking about Jefferson and Trump and missiles and Darfur, I felt a wave of mourning, of grief and shame washing over me. I sat down at the base of a nearby statue and gave myself permission to let it out.
I bawled like a child.
A couple of passing pedestrians checked in on me, to make sure I was OK. A few minutes later, a couple of local policemen arrived, very kind, understanding and sympathetic. We spoke for a while, and I gathered up my psyche and went on my way.
And that’s when it hit me.
It’s time to call for the Next American Republic. This one is broken, worn out, obsolete, and too expensive to maintain—and furthermore, it has been vandalized and tampered with, its safety mechanisms and pollution controls deliberately disabled.
Of course, we can’t go to a new government dealer, or even get a certified “pre-owned” republic for a replacement. We’ll have to build it ourselves. We can use some of the old parts, maybe, the ones that still work—but before we get to that, we have some design work to do.
So let loose your creative imaginations, your highest ideals, your most fervent hopes: What features would you like to see in your next republic?
(Send me your ideas at email@example.com, or post them on Twitter with hashtag #NextRepublic.)