The violent boys merely armedIt must be tempting to believe we lived in simpler times. But, the failures of the last decade—Iraq, Katrina, the Great Recession—bled onto this one, and young as I am, I can't quite remember anything else but worry. But I would have liked to have lived in simpler times.
with fists, the president
avuncular, his office unspoiled,
it's tempting to believe
we lived in simpler times.
- from Stephen Dunn's "Simpler Times"
I understand there was a time before all this, when an irascible Republican base and an implacable Republican congress might not have been so irascible or implacable. I understand there was a time when, if a candidate lost, Donald Trump wouldn't call for a revolution. I hear that once, when a "severe conservative" failed, it would be conservatism that failed, not the candidate who failed conservatism. And I just found out, from Bill O'Reilly, that "[I]t's not a traditional America anymore."
Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly said tonight that if President Barack Obama wins re-election, it’s because the demographics of the country have changed and “it’s not a traditional America anymore.”
“The white establishment is now the minority,” O'Reilly said. “And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama's way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?”
“The demographics are changing,” he said. “It’s not a traditional America anymore.”
I grew up under Clinton, then Bush. My older brother was, for a little while, a Republican (he now has an account at Daily Kos). It may have been just to piss of my parents. I said I was one, too, and he taught me words like "trickle-down economics," and we made a fort and hid from the Democrats downstairs. Then my brother went off to college, became a Democrat, and the Republicans tried to impeach Clinton. I read the Lewinski Report, which was excerpted in the local paper, at the corner deli and blushed.
Those were the days before politics mattered to me, and they were the beginning of the end, I suppose, for both the times I would remember as "simpler" and O'Reilly's "traditional America." Indeed, by the time things in life were complicated, "traditional America" was, for me, a concept utterly devoid of meaning. The America I knew was an America of 1,000 traditions.
So I never understood the urge to look backward. I never got the tricorne hat or the veneration of the time some Bostonians dressed up like Native Americans and destroyed some property. I never got the obsession with "restoring" America, because the America I loved didn't need restoring; it needed fostering.
When Senator Obama became President-elect Obama in 2008, I was dancing in the little square in my college town with hundreds of other students. We believed, bless our hearts, that we had just put the nail in the coffin of "traditional America," which we viewed as a bit too stuffy—too exclusively white and straight and male and rich—for our tastes. The exclusivity of traditional America would be gone now, we thought, replaced, perhaps, with that shining America of 1,000 cultures, replaced with that beacon on a hill where people from every part of the world, from every culture and tradition, could come and call home.
All throughout this campaign—and, indeed, ever since President Obama came into office—conservatives have tried to make this campaign about big ideas, clashes of ideologies. It was about Tyranny vs. Freedom, Liberty writ large. It should be noted that conservatives always want their campaigns to be about freedom and not about the incremental—which isn't to say inconsequential—policies of a center-left technocrat.
But of course, now the attack isn't just that President Obama is a Socialist/Communist/Marxist/Fascist, which is really just to say "a Democrat." He's also an anti-imperialist. And maybe a Muslim and a foreigner, to boot, which is really just to say that he's a part of that "other" America—the non-traditional America. And, in a sense, they are correct that this election is about big clashes. It's not between tyranny and freedom though. It's about an exclusively "traditional" America versus an open one.
There's a certain irony to O'Reilly's remark about traditional America and demographics. Maybe not irony, maybe a forgetfulness. It wasn't so long ago that traditional America cast Catholics in the multitudes of "others." And it wasn't long ago that we cast Mormons the same way. That Catholics and Mormons are now an as American as anyone else is an expression of a much larger victory. 2008 was an expression of that victory. So were the results last night in Minnesota, Maryland, and Maine. So were the results last night when we re-elected Barack Hussein Obama.
That victory, the American victory of inclusion over exclusion, is where America finds its greatness, and it's not in our past but in our future. There were never any simpler, better times. But as Tuesday night proved, once again, there are in our future.
Nearby were the slums
just beyond our caring,
and nearer still—it took years
to hear it—a complaint
rising to a howl.
In Hungary, the tanks
rolled in. In Zaire
Mobutu filled the secret,
- From Stephen Dunn's "Simpler Times"