Moats: Whitman’s America Today

Print More

(Host) Commentator David Moats has recently been on a  journey through
America – that all came together in Washington this week, when the
nation inaugurated a new president.

(Moats) Walt Whitman is a
poet best known for celebrating all of life – American life – from the
docks of Mannahatta, as he called it, to the coasts of Florida, the Rio
Grande and beyond.

Over the last few months I’ve had the
occasion to take several trips – a kind of Whitmanesque tour of America.
I’m struck by the breadth of it, the variousness, poverty, wealth,
history, beauty.

My most recent trip was to the Inauguration, a
ceremony designed to capture the grandeur and greatness of our
democratic experiment. There on the National Mall a happy multitude
looked toward the Capitol dome to watch a ceremony that was simple,
brief and affirming. Yet in that august setting I couldn’t forget what I
had seen during the past few months.

In November I drove
through Mississippi Delta country, past expansive rice and corn fields
and tiny impoverished towns of shotgun shacks and ramshackle churches.
In one town, on a Sunday morning, I saw two men navigating broken
sidewalks in motorized wheelchairs, which seemed like the most ambitious
capital outlay in sight.

In South St. Louis, I drove down a
long boulevard of working class shops and homes – the nail salon, the
auto shop, the pizza joint – America at its most ordinary, the America
of people just getting by, America of every race, not rich, not exactly

In my travels I saw little of glitzy, affluent America. In
most places you have to know where to look for the fancy houses and the
country clubs. But when I was in Washington state, I found myself in
one of the most glitzy towns of all.

We went to a movie in
Bellevue, home of Microsoft, at a glistening mall where the corridors
were lined with shiny terracotta-colored marble, and many of the people
had that unmistakable self-satisfied patina of great wealth.

was the country that inaugurated a president on Monday – the country
that encompasses Talullah, Louisiana and Bellevue, Washington – a place
of sun -blasted farm fields, hardscrabble city streets and immense

A Whitmanesque tour reveals why President Obama won
re-election. America is mostly not rich. It comprises great
multiplicity, which was on display at the inauguration – all the strands
that make up the fabric, leading back to Africa, Mexico, Europe, Asia.
The country club set that might have elected Obama’s opponent is part of
the picture, but only part.

On the way back from the
celebration, I drove through the rugged coal country of northeastern
Pennsylvania and the expansive valleys of central New York to my tiny
village, cloaked in snow, peaceful and still, beneath the arctic air.

time we become infatuated with ourselves – our individual histories and
complaints and demands – we need to remember the whole.

We, all of us, as a whole, had a moment, together, this week.

Comments are closed.