William D. Adams

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ON THE EVENING OF THE DAY OF THE 2016 ELECTION, I left my office near the National Mall in Washington around 7 pm and walked to a restaurant in the Navy Yard, several blocks south of Capitol Hill and not far from my apartment. I had a quick drink and dinner before hurrying home to watch the election returns and the inevitable triumph of Hillary Clinton.

A faint shadow of doubt hovered just outside the edges of my happy mood. This was a presidential election, after all, and nothing was perfectly certain. But I was blanketed in the prevailing wisdom of the Democratic establishment in Washington that it would be very difficult for any Republican, never mind Donald J. Trump, to prevail in the electoral college. The blue wall. And then there were the polls and the predictive models, all pointing toward a decisive Clinton victory. …


William D. Adams

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“Vision is the meeting, as at a crossroads, of all the aspects of Being.”

The French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty spent the summer of 1960 — his last — in the French village of Le Tholonet, about 10 kilometers east of Aix-en-Provence. Over the course of that summer, he wrote Eye and Mind, the dense and beautiful meditation on painting and vision. It was the final work published during his lifetime.

Le Tholonet is lost in time. Approaching from the west, the congested streets of Aix give way to a narrow two-lane road that hugs the bottom of the ridge along the southwestern flank of Mont Sainte-Victoire. Stone walls, secluded drives, and stately homes appear briefly through the cover of pines and hedges. If one stops in exactly the right place, Chateau Noir, where Paul Cézanne made extraordinary pictures in the final decade of his life, is partly visible high above the road. …


William D. Adams

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The Bassac River in Chau Doc City, Vietnam

In March of 2017, I travelled to Vietnam with a fellow veteran of the American war. It was our first visit to the country since our military deployments there — mine in 1968–69 to an Army advisory team deep in the Mekong Delta , and his to a Marine helicopter unit near Da Nang in 1970–71. We spent two weeks on the road, travelling from Hanoi in the north to Chau Doc in the south, some of it by bicycle. I kept a journal during the trip, reproduced here in its entirety.

Wednesday, March 15

I’m on the plane from Seoul to Hanoi, feeling excited and eager now that this journey is finally happening. It didn’t seem real until I boarded the plane, a Korean Air Boeing 777 with lots of first-class and business seats. When I went to Vietnam in 1968, the only American planes going to Hanoi were B 52 bombers and fighter jets. …


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William D. Adams

ON JULY 25, 1967 I WAS ORDERED TO REPORT to the Godman Army Airfield at Fort Knox, Kentucky. When I arrived, I learned that President Lyndon Johnson had authorized the use of federal troops to suppress the civil unrest in Detroit that had erupted a few days before. Two brigades from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were being deployed, and troops from Fort Knox were being readied in case additional forces were needed.

I was a nineteen-year old 2nd Lieutenant recently graduated from Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Only a year before, I had attended basic training and advanced individual training at Fort Knox. Now I was back and serving as a training officer in a basic training unit not far from the one I’d known as a bewildered enlistee 12 months before. …


William D. Adams

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May 1, 2020

ONE OF THE NOVEL EXPERIENCES of life in the time of the coronavirus is the sensation of being lost. Waking in a dark and unfamiliar room; traveling in a foreign country without a map; drifting, rudderless, on the ocean. All metaphors lead to the same uncomfortable conclusion: we’ve never been here before. There are probably a few people left on the planet who experienced the great flu pandemic of 1918–19 (the so-called “Spanish flu”, which in fact wasn’t Spanish at all), in which perhaps 100 million people died. But for most of us, the current moment is utterly unprecedented. …


William D. Adams

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“We are large, containing multitudes.”
-Walt Whitman

“We are polyglot, a stew.”
-Barack Obama

Diversity is hardly a new term in the lexicon of contemporary thinking about democracy, but recent events, including the astonishing 2016 presidential election campaign and outcome, remind us of its central importance. Indeed, American democracy is at an inflection point. How-and how well-we cope with the shifting meanings and demands of diversity in our politics and daily lives will shape our country’s future in ways we are only beginning to grasp.

We are awash in both hopeful and worrisome reminders of this basic truth. …

About

Bro Adams

William Adams lives and writes in Portland, Maine. He served in the Obama administration as Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 2014–2017.

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