Richard S. Russell

The Hill We Climb

When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We’ve braved the belly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn't always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished
We the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn’t mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division
Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid
If we’re to live up to our own time
Then victory won’t lie in the blade
But in all the bridges we’ve made
That is the promise to glade
The hill we climb
If only we dare
It's because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into and how we repair it
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy
And this effort very nearly succeeded
But while democracy can be periodically delayed
it can never be permanently defeated
In this truth
in this faith we trust
For while we have our eyes on the future
history has its eyes on us
This is the era of just redemption
We feared at its inception
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation
Our blunders become their burdens
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children’s birthright
So let us leave behind a country
better than the one we were left with
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest,
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west,
We will rise from the windswept northeast
where our forefathers first realized revolution
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states,
We will rise from the sunbaked south
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
—Amanda Gorman (1998-  ) America’s first youth poet laureate, poem at presidential inauguration, 2021 Jan. 20
Richard S. Russell

Asymmetric Warfare

I don’t know if you recall the “Isaac and Ishmael" episode of The West Wing, which Aaron Sorkin hurriedly assembled right after 9/11, but it has resonances for today. It featured a bunch of staffers sequestered in the White House kitchen talking to a bunch of visiting high-school students about a terrorist threat to the White House itself.
The one thing that most stands out in my mind about that episode was Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman (Madison native Bradley Whitford) and Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) pointing out that the reason political, economic, or religious fanatics have to resort to asymmetric warfare (their small forces being able to strike at selected non-military targets without warning) was that they’re losers and failures. That’s why their forces are small. That’s why they’re fanatics, because normal people won’t have anything to do with them, and they’ve purged from their own ranks anyone who doesn’t seem sufficiently ardent or conformist (might be infiltrators, you know).
God, that guy was a good writer:
= = = = = =
America has changed over the years. But these values my grandparents taught me — they haven’t gone anywhere. They’re as strong as ever; still cherished by people of every party, every race, every faith. They live on in each of us. What makes us American, what makes us patriots, is what’s in here. That’s what matters. And that’s why we can take the food and music and holidays and styles of other countries, and blend it into something uniquely our own. That’s why we can attract strivers and entrepreneurs from around the globe to build new factories and create new industries here. That’s why our military can look the way it does — every shade of humanity, forged into common service. That’s why anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end.
— Barack Hussein Obama (1961-  ), 44th US president
= = = = = =
With malice toward none, with charity for all, ... let us strive on to finish the work we are in, ... to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
— Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th US president, 2nd Inaugural Address, 1865 Mar. 4
Richard S. Russell

What I Learned Today

They say that every day you should try to learn something new. I am pleased to report that today — Saturday, December 12, in the Year of Our Virus 2020 — I have achieved that worthy objective. I have learned that 76 years of age is way the fuck too old to be trying to tackle 8 inches of wet, heavy snow armed with nothing more than a smile, a shovel, a cup of cocoa, and a remorseless sense of duty.
Richard S. Russell

Credit Where It's Due

During their speeches Saturday night, Kamala Harris and Joe Biden made a point of thanking their families, forbears, campaign workers, volunteers, the nation’s diligent election officials, and of course the pro forma reference to divine providence. Most of that gratitude was deserved. But I found it odd that there was no mention of the one person who, more than any other of the 7.8 billion humans on Earth, was chiefly responsible for the two of them standing on that stage in Wilmington, Delaware.





I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible.

— Barack Hussein Obama (1961- ), 44th US president, then a senator, speaking at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center, 2008 Mar. 18
Richard S. Russell

Gutcheck

A situation of national significance arises. It lands on the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. What is the president’s initial reaction?

• George H. W. Bush: “What is the decent thing to do?”

• Bill Clinton: “What is the friendly thing to do?”

• George W. Bush: “What is the expedient thing to do?”

• Barack Obama: “What is the right thing to do?”

• Donald Trump: “What is the profitable thing to do?”