Put down whatever you're doing and go read Tim Kreider's artist's statement for this week's The Pain -- When Will It End?.
But there’s a half-millennium of institutional racism on this continent, and social progress happens slowly and unevenly, person by person. There are still vast, savage swaths of unapologetic bigotry in this country. I spent fifteen years living in a county where there's still an active Klan chapter, where guys in diners or bars will casually drop the old N-bomb early on in a conversation just to test you out, to see if you’re one of them or some “edjumacated idjot.” This wasn’t in darkest Alabama or anything—it was technically within the East Coast megalopolis, between Baltimore and Philadelphia, just off I-95. There are millions of people out there who chuckle over the wit of the nickname “Obama-Osama.” And thanks to the second amendment, they can all have top-of-the-line, high-powered rifles with excellent telescopic sights.
What kind of crept me out was that neither of them seemed to base their opinions on Hillary's voting record, or her stand (such as it is) on the issues--it was all about personal identity politics and reactions based on their own life experience. And these are very smart, well-read people I’m talking about. It made me feel uncomfortably like some chauvanistic patriarch circa 1912 having a cigar and brandy in a men’s club, chuckling off the notion that emotional women could be trusted with the vote. But this sort of atavistic haruspication at election time is hardly an exclusively female fallacy. Most people vote for very personal, visceral reasons. I'm not exactly bucking the demographic trend myself. Who knows?--maybe on some level I'm only opposing Hillary because she's a woman. If anything it’s only proof that democracy was a nice idea that just didn’t pan out and maybe Plato had it right all along and what we really need is an oligarchy of philosopher-kings. Only problem would be finding any philosopher-kings in this country. Too bad Carl Sagan and Johnny Cash are dead.
I envy my younger friends who are all ga-ga for Obama, feeling that once-in-a-generation thrill of belonging to a real movement instead of a party, being swept up in a wave of mass shared emotion--"that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil," as Hunter Thompson described it.
My friend Megan and I were just comisserating about this. We feel like we blew all our hope and enthusiasm on the antiwar protests and the 2004 election, when we actually went door-to-door in Philadelphia getting out the vote, and we got crushed. What's worse is to think that we wasted that moment on John Kerry. I'm so insulted and embarrassed by the succession of stuffed shirts the Democrats have forced me to vote for in my life: Mondale, Dukakis, Kerry... and now that a genuinely inspiring candiate comes along, I'm too old and jaded to get excited about it.
After 2004 I have zero faith in my fellow Americans. Make no mistake: they are cowards and bigots and fools. They are not turning back toward the Democratic party because they’ve realized the war in Iraq was wrong or that their birthright as American citizens is being taken from them. It’s because the economy’s falling apart and their jobs look uncertain, and they’re scared. To quote Governor Tarkin: "Fear will keep the local systems in line." Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney didn't miscalculate to appeal to fear again; it’s just that this year Americans are more afraid of joblessness than they are of terrorists.