While I am certain that I do not speak for all Americans, which is these days mainly a question of decibels and volume, I feel comfortable speaking for some reasonable percentage of us when I describe how many of us feel this morning.
If you haven’t read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you should. There is a scene very early where Earthman Arthur Dent has just regained consciousness on a Vogon spaceship, where his friend has rescued him from what is now the smoking remains of what had been our planet.
“…There was no way his imagination could feel the impact of the whole Earth having gone, it was too big. He prodded his feelings by thinking that his parents and his sister had gone. No reaction. He thought of all the people he had been close to. No reaction. Then he thought of a complete stranger he had been standing behind in the queue at the supermarket two days before and felt a sudden stab: the supermarket was gone, everyone in it was gone! Nelson’s Column had gone! And there would be no outcry, because there was no one left to make an outcry! From now on Nelson’s Column only existed in his mind. England only existed in his mind. A wave of claustrophobia closed in on him.
He tried again: America, he thought, has gone. He couldn’t grasp it. He decided to start smaller again. New York has gone. No reaction. He’d never seriously believed it existed anyway. The dollar, he thought, has sunk for ever. Slight tremor there. Every “Bogart” movie has been wiped, he said to himself, and that gave him a nasty knock. McDonald’s, he thought. There is no longer any such thing as a McDonald’s hamburger.
He passed out.”
That’s how many of us feel right now. The enormity of the situation, the magnitude of the mistake – there is no way for our imaginations to feel the impact of climate change denials and LGBT rights reversals and ACA repeals all at once. It’s too big. America has gone. We can’t grasp it. Many of us never seriously believed it existed anyway.
Don’t panic. Yes, the Vogons control both houses of Congress, and we’ve elected The Donald to the White House, Zaphod Beeblebrox with one head and small hands.
I have learned a lot from having kids. One of the most interesting things we noticed is that all of them – the Human Tape Recorder, Number One Son, and the Reigning Queen of Pink – all went through some of the same mechanisms of growth and development; parenting books and the internet tell us that most children do this as well. When the kids were little, we’d watch them becoming older, more mature, and marvel at their independence – and then suddenly they’d be clingy and fearful. It seemed they had regressed two years overnight. Then, a few weeks or a month later, they bounced out and moved on, standing taller than ever, butterflies with new wings. They had just needed that reassurance, that sense of touching home base, of being sure that there was a safe place behind them before they moved on to the next part of their broader world view.
That’s how I see America right now.
EIGHT WHOLE YEARS with a black president? All that LGBT legislation protecting the dignity of all people? The hard-line conservative core reacted like 6-yr-olds. There was just too much change, too fast. With this election, conservative America had a chance to regress for a while, to touch home base, and that’s the way the country voted.
Just like my kids at that age, though, we’ve *seen* the broader world. The genie is out of that bottle. We know it will be waiting for us; we know we’re going to go back to it. America would just like a few more years under a fuzzy blanket, please. Give us 8, 10, 15 years and we’ll be back where we were and then some; we will remember this episode as an embarrassing and brief blip in our history.
That’s my hope, anyway. Don’t think it’s inevitable – it’s not. Don’t think it won’t take a lot of effort – it will. We need to do our best, as the parents of this still-young country, to keep prodding it to be better, to keep calling our elected officials, to keep yelling when yelling will help. to keep whispering when whispering works, to keep loving the country and the idea of the country.
It seems very dire right now, and many of my friends worry that the current spectacle is reminiscent of the Nazis. They’re not wrong, and there is evil afoot in the world – it looks like intolerance, it looks like intransigence, it looks like the willful suspension of belief in facts, and we must speak against it when we see it. Fascism is a scary specter, but don’t think it’s inevitable – it’s not.
America may not have been ready for the social progress that it made, but it will be. This is a road we’re paving slowly, and the pendulum will swing back toward education, toward tolerance, toward dignity and a more worldly world view.
That’s my hope, anyway.
In the mean time…