By now, most of you have probably seen the Tumblr page entirely dedicated to pictures of white people mourning the Republican defeat last Tuesday.
I realize how easy it is to make fun of those people (our those people), but for me the images posted there call up -- somewhat to my surprise -- decidedly mixed emotions. Spite and sympathy, it seems, can co-exist, and even lay the groundwork for something that begins to resemble empathy.
It's an involuntary reflex, to be sure, after the bile, racism, and sheer deranged hatred those people have flung at us these past four years -- not to mention their cocksure arrogance (up until about 10:00 pm Tuesday night) that "real" Americans were going to rise as one and send the Kenyan usurper packing.
But looking at those woeful faces -- hopes smashed, the awful truth finally revealed -- it's hard not to remember election night 2004, when it became clear that lies and war crimes notwithstanding, President Cheney and his sidekick were going to be reelected despite our best efforts.
It's devastating to believe that your country has looked evil full in the face and decided to embrace it, and feel completely helpless to stop it. And if even one-twentieth of the things those people believe about President Obama, and about us, were true, they would be right to despair, just as we did eight years ago.
In the end, though, what really makes it hard for me to dine with gusto at the schadenfreude buffet is that the grieving faces on the other side of the partisan divide aren't those people, they're my people -- the middle-class neighbors of my Southern childhood, the kids I went to school with, my redneck uncles and cousins, my own mother and father.
The sagging chins and pot bellies, the crew cuts and blue hair, the bad make up and worse fashion sense -- these are all as familiar to me as the lines on my own face. I know these people too intimately, their pasts are too intertwined with mine, for me to look at them and see only the despised Other, even though I have no doubt that's how many, if not most, of them would look at me.
I also know that they have been lied to, with ferocious intensity and relentless dedication, by the conservative propaganda machine and its political masters. If we must have demons to hate, better to seek them among the con artists who have turned Rwandan-style hate speech into an industry profitable enough to rival the porn business.
I know it's customary at times such as these for victors to speak of reconciliation -- to remind the defeated, as President Obama never seems to get tired of repeating, that there are no red states, no blue states, just the United States of America. But that's not what I'm trying to do here. I have no particular interest in offering any olive branches. We've gone too far, traveling in opposite directions, to meet halfway now. One side must rule and the other must grind its teeth in rage. That being the case, I'd much rather it was them than us wearing down the enamel.
All that said, though, there is still something poignant, even tragic, about those faces of red America, something worthy of a eulogy. Their America -- Bill O'Reilly's "traditional America" -- is fading away. Whatever the future holds, it's not likely to look like them, or think like them, or live like them.
And in a way I can't quite explain, that fact lends a measure of dignity to their grief -- to the point where their faces almost begin to resemble old photos of Geronimo in captivity, his sad eyes looking past the camera to a vanished world that no white man can conquer.
And so, in that same spirit, let me offer this semi-affectionate and almost respectful tribute to our defeated enemies and their blasted hopes:
Mourning in America