I=m stripping paint. Less skill than persistence. The 26 columns around my 1895 porch are a triumph of the woodworker=s art. But turned and carved details have disappeared under countless coats of paint, so I=m removing those globby, uneven layers to find the wood underneath. It=s the kind of work I have been doing since we bought this house, wonderful to us for the history revealed in every room, yet still well below the average price of new houses. I=ve taken paint off doors and tarnish off hinges, shined doorknobs, refinished woodwork.
While I=m working on my house, it doesn=t matter who is President. Or who=s in Congress, in the Illinois Statehouse, or in my city offices. Their words and their actions play little role in that part of my life. I=m free to do my work.
Well, almost free. Every level of government makes some rules about what I can do to my house. Probably the biggest restriction is the most local: my house is part of a district of old homes in Jacksonville recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. I can=t just tear off my porch or build out my attic or add a room to the side without getting the approval of Jacksonville city=s Historic Preservation Commission. Their appointed task is to prevent such alterations in the outward appearance of historic homes in the district. The Commission is less about prohibiting than about persuading, in the interest of preserving for everyone a unique collection of American homes, made with materials and by craftsmen no longer available. Except maybe for Chalmer.
I believe in that work and have served on the Commission for seven years. All I want to do is bring back the original beauty of this house.
When I get tired, I can watch whatever I want on TV. There are dozens of channels of addictive trash, but the breadth of choice and the lack of intrusion by government makes America the promised land of media opportunity. I grew up with a handful of stations in New York, more than most Americans had access to, all very carefully walking a narrow path in the middle. I don=t watch a lot of TV, but if I want, I can now switch from movies made before I was born, to liberal or conservative news, to the wonderful source of information about everything that is public television. Someone else can do the opposite. We both might end up at the Olympics or the World Series.
Those are just two examples of how I can control my own life here in the US. The list is endless. I know that such freedom of choice is a privilege made of good luck and years of good work. Many in America face a more restricted range of choices, because they have too little money or too little health or just bad luck. Many of those people voted for Trump, because he promised to get them more.
There are many others whose circle of freedom is smaller because of who they are. In my lifetime, women and blacks and gays have broken out of very constricted circles. Their gains have been wonderful, but the remaining restrictions are still significant. Government contributed to restricting them and then made their increased freedom possible.
Because I am an ordinary citizen, I need the American democratic system to protect those freedoms. If the great powers of America, media, corporations, and governments, decided to narrow my freedoms, to tell me more often what to do and what not to do, I could fight them, but I=d lose.
Trump has never needed the protection of our democratic system. Every moment of his life has been privileged by wealth. He acts and talks as if he has deserved all his freedoms from birth. He has disdained the freedoms of others to enlarge his own.
I worry about two things. I don=t think Trump will help the Americans who voted for him because they hoped he could get them better lives. Trump has never shown the slightest interest in people without a lot of power and privilege. He has often used his power and wealth to take theirs.
I do think Trump might hurt the Americans who didn=t vote for him because he disparaged who they are. He has made his contempt for large groups of Americans perfectly clear. Now he=ll have much more power to hurt them.
We=ll have to wait and see.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, November 15, 2016