President Obama and his Republican challengers all believe we’ve reached a watershed on the kind of country the United States will be. Such watersheds are by definition consequential but have been part of our history, so another one isn’t surprising. What choices confront us now?
The first seems to be will rancor intensify. Rancor has been typical but you might’ve thought we would outgrow our historical and hysterical prejudices given the twin miracles of knowledge and the melting pot, but fear of loss from the current brush with Depression called for a powerful palliative. Obama hatred fits that need, so does immigrant hatred (notwithstanding our history) and women’s rights hatred. And superimposed is the class warfare perpetrated by those (some, not all) that should’ve been grateful for the opportunity of financial success but are Scrooge-like instead, reluctant to tithe society for their opportunity or to extend such opportunity to others.
Democrats lost their way without big issues to tackle. Roosevelt restrained bully capitalism and defeated fascism; Truman restrained communism and built prosperity buffer states in Western Europe and Japan; Kennedy confronted a Soviet Union that made more of its German scientist POWs than the U.S. did; and Johnson rid us finally of Great Depression and slavery hangovers.
Today’s Democrats (except Obama) seem unable or reluctant to find new dragons to slay.
Leaving the field to the small-minded (Robertson, Norquist, the Koch brothers, et al) with their dogwhistles in service of class and culture warfare waged on behalf of elites. Restricting unions and the vote. Going about fully armed. Denying science. Attacking gays, sex and women.
Republicans came to power, promptly abused it then panicked when Wall Street melted down. But then they found the Tea Party, and that god, guns and government interference were fears a robber baron leadership could use to preserve, even increase, their influence, and whip up a base of Luddites and a mindless religious right that believes in a world less than 4000 years old.
Our postwar prosperity came not from god, guns or privilege but from Eisenhower infrastructure and Nixon regulatory and foreign policy initiatives (and IBM and AT&T busting), and then from giving smart people a chance to rise above their origins. Silicon Valley, once home to defense contractors, is now a knowledge and culture amalgam and innovation engine.
Virginia could be, too, if its Republicans stopped looking at the past and the Bible for inspiration.
What’s next? Left to conservative Republicans, we’ll be a culture of hypocrites and misogynists. Not focused on the meaningful hows of being competitive globally and geopolitically, on space exploration and exploitation, the global rights and prosperity of peoples, on enjoying women as life partners and equals, or on the profound appreciation that salvation for country and planet comes from science not prayer or religion.
So. Cue the dog-whistles and insultmongers? Or find the Higgs Boson, unlock the secrets of stem cells and strengthen the middle class? And maybe vote Obama?
The Plains, Virginia