The Great State

“Home of the first city in the USA to institute an 8-hour work day for non-unionized carpenters in 1890 . . .

Home of the first woman under 45 to be elected to a school board . . .

Home of the regional log-rolling champions in 1976 . . .

And home — three years running! — of the winner of the award for Best Teacher in the Midwest . . .

the Great State of Snicklefritz casts both its votes for the next President of these United States, our Presumptive Nominee.”

Forget the speeches — both insipid and inspired — by family members, preachers, businesswomen, victims of crime, police and military veterans, politicians, and veteran politicians. Forget the cheering and the intermittent booing. Forget those conspicuous by their absence, and those who maybe should have been absent. Forget the self-serving partisan commentary. After catching bits of both the Republican and Democratic conventions on TV over the last two weeks, I find it’s the roll call of the States which stands out in my mind.

Delegates crowd around the microphone: less to be on TV, I think, than to really be part of the moment. As the designated speaker calls out their State’s accomplishments, claims to fame, and famous sons and daughters, it sometime looks like a contest to see who can give the longest lead-in to announcing how their State’s votes are allocated: something everyone in the hall already knows.

In these officially unilingual United States, delegates speak in English, Spanish, Lakota, and maybe other languages that I missed. As they conclude, the crowd goes wild, their enthusiasm burning hot even without the fuel of an uncertain outcome. And the roll call moves on to the next Great State.

In an uncontested convention it’s political theatre, of course, not real politics. To get to this point, all the heavy lifting has long since been done; to get to the next point, the real work is just beginning. It’s also community theatre: definitely off-off-off-Broadway, or maybe even amateur hour.

But it’s kinda cool.

Unlike Canadians, Americans are not afraid to crow about themselves. And so we hear about their sandy beaches, first Latino assemblyman, great restaurants, gay marriages, historic African-American milestones, female governors, Native American heritage, sporting championships, technological breakthroughs, and the big businesses that have set up operations in their Great State.

Do some of the featured accomplishments seem a little inconsequential to me, in context? Well, yeah. (Guys. Great restaurants? Really? Is that the best you got?) But how else do we maintain the perspective and grace to appreciate our homes, except by sometimes boasting about things large and small?

And how else do we see what is integral to us, except by noting what we don’t even bother to mention? Like Canadians, Americans take the peaceful (if somewhat histrionic) transfer of power every four or eight years entirely for granted. Now that’s a great state to be in.


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6 Responses to The Great State

  1. Tom Watson says:

    Know what, Isabel… You suggest “forget” this and that. Although I know what you mean by that, in the strict sense of the word, its hard to ‘forget’. A lot rides on the pending U.S. election. And it sits there right in front of us day by day. In some ways it’s quite comedic, but also deadly serious. As Garrison Keillor wrote: “We’re in trouble down here.”

    • If you are in trouble “down there,” Tom, we’re in it with you “up here.” I grew up half in Canada, half in the US. I married an American; we have lived in both countries. Our children live in both countries. Our closest friends and relatives come from or still live in both countries. Our fates are entwined. Indeed, the fate of the entire world is at stake in this election. Dick and I are glued to MSNBC most days of the week, which I do with my eyes on my computer work and my ears cocked to the TV. I pray that you soon will see an expression of Divine power that will prepare you against any outcome of the coming election. There are godly forces more compelling than the US military-industrial complex that will be up and grabbing come November, whoever wins the election. We are aligned with those forces.

      • Isabel Gibson says:

        Laurna – Tom is actually an Ontarian, just quoting Garrison Keillor. But it’s certainly true that we’re all in this together. The world is smaller than ever.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – I guess I could say, “Never mind . . .” but I don’t suppose that would be any more possible. I understand people’s concerns, but am inclined to the view that the President is never as great as some hope or as bad as some fear. I guess this time we’re going to get the chance to find out.

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    The whole of this last week hiking in the mountains has been — in retrospect — “seeing what is integral to us…by noting what we don’t even bother to mention?” Over and over, I found myself drawing attention to a flake of rock, a wildflower, a tilt of geology, an almost invisible cutthroat trout lurking in the shadows of a millennia-old rock left here by a glacier 14,000 years ago. I’ve heard it called “mindfulness” but to me it is just paying attention.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – Yes, we can take for granted in more than one way, I guess. One is undervaluing and one is just not seeing it at all.

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