for you to wake up to.
I skipped politics completely all day and night yesterday. My work with ideology is quite removed from politics, in an odd way, because I focus on understanding these people as individuals– as our friends, lovers, parents, work associates and bosses. I was blessed to catch the news all at once this morning, the battle over. Like being led sleepily to a hole in the ice and being thrown in at 5 am. I kept circling back to thinking that I had to be in an unusually detailed dream; kept wondering how the news feed could look so real, for so long.
Life is funny– tricksy. When I look back on the most satisfying work of my life, it was done when I knew I was doing the right thing, but there were few beside me, or when I was forced to stand alone. Standing with you this time will be a similar privilege, a similar feeling of pride and joy mixed with frustration. Standing with great souls again, knowing that representing our causes now is much more urgent, because it will be less popular. People will lose their way, you see, and fade back into busy lives. Each of us left at the barricades has just become much more important, much more efficacious, even if it seems the opposite is true.
Now is the best kind of reminder, a stinging one, that life isn’t about the arrival, but the paths we take, the choices we take at the junctures like this one. We stand where we do as liberals because we must, if we’ve lived correctly. I’ve found it to be more than enough.
I’ll be talking to liberals and conservatives all week, continuing what I’ve been intermittently doing for the last few months, in between book and promotion stuff. I’m in North Carolina at the moment, moving through South Carolina on the way to Georgia. I think the vast majority of these winners aren’t thrilled– more like bemused, or surprised, or justified, or satisfied that America’s trying something– anything– that doesn’t look like regular politics.
Their reasons defy our usual instinct to complicate things. Almost every single one is incredibly frustrated with the lies of commission and omission, of hubris and realpolitik in the many shades possible which candidates trade in avidly as the lingua franca of their worlds. Few of the people I talked to are truly happy with Donald Trump. They’re frustrated people, many of whom have lost money or work from Bill Clinton’s NAFTA, or seen their health insurance premiums go up while their coverage became worse. They whisper among themselves about terrorism and immigration, which seem to them to stand silent around a near corner, awaiting their moment. The Republican leadership ground a lesson into their bones for two generations that the people were puppetry, while the left loudly celebrated every gain that seemed to pass the white people here in a slipstream. No one was speaking either to them, or for them.
They’re very proud of this people’s victory, even without the usual assurance and joy that I’m used to with political success. It’s hard for me to blame them. As I walk among them and talk to them, I can’t separate myself from them, from their lives and dreams and heartaches. My life has been a far country from theirs for many years, but I do this work about understanding them because I love them, because the research got far enough along to justify and clarify my deep appreciation to be based on characteristics I can sketch out for others. I spent much of my life among them; I know them as well as any liberal can. We are right to focus on their foibles and weaknesses when it comes to policy, but we shouldn’t discount the heart of these people, nor their goodwill and conscientious natures, notwithstanding all the populist stupidity and rancor flaying away on the harder edges of the conservative movement. These are people who mean well, who intend an America that’s strong and safe, that provides her people jobs. As they speak, it’s clear to me that they don’t realize how closely they hew in spirit to the broad-minded and generous spirit of conservative thinkers like David Brooks, Ross Douthat, and Colin Powell of the right, who have shined with generous and insightful commentary the last few months, in brave opposition to authoritarianism and lies. They’re all, people and pundits alike, earnestly articulating the hope that we turn from corruption, inefficiency, and removed, insider politics, to solutions that work for a broader set of Americans. The left doesn’t know the language of those solutions yet, and neither does the right. There will be some brutal learning ahead, with some twists as surprising as the one last night.
We’re going to watch the right grow up a little, as the excessive parts of their loose coalition try once again to gain the confidence of the people. Trump will have to backpedal on promises like no one ever before; that should be fun. It will be fascinating to watch the conservatives who didn’t support Donald Trump be forced to truly take on the mantle of leadership, and speak more truth than they have, as they can’t just sit back anymore and take pot shots at the left, but make an earnest effort to abide by whatever their principles are to lead the nation through the many conflicts they have with their new chief executive. I’m quite hopeful, in medium-term way. Not that we’ll avoid populist excesses and bad legislation, which are inevitable. And we’ll continue our fantasy of permanently cheap oil and money, and harmless consumerism. But Americans on the right will learn to listen better to minorities, our allies, and their young as the old conservatives die off. They’ll renew their approach in unpredictable and sometimes sensible ways, as people of color take more and more of a voice in our country.
It’s an early winter’s dawn, this good news. Wan, bleak, perhaps even hard to see, but good news nonetheless. Yes, the left is now a sideshow in national politics, even if we’re quite alive and well in the states and our towns. The Supreme Court will be taking a turn to the right for a good chunk of this next generation. There will be filibusters and civil disobedience just for basic services and sanity– some of which won’t work. But one must take the long view. There is a great work afoot for each of us, if we want it. That’s one of the best things to have in life, it turns out. We can each be an island of hope and inspiration for how to live, and what to stand for. We can keep on the selfsame journey together, only with more urgency, and a little less known about the destination.
Americans are a remarkable people. We have a darkening coming for a little, and then a gradual lightening you and I will all participate in, as we learn the lessons we need to as a nation to move together into the heart of the 21st century. We’ve only been reminded more forcefully than usual that we are yolked together on our way to our children’s America. It will be a humbling and disorienting lesson, but we should turn it into a useful one, or we’ll not do as well as we can for each other.
Being liberal just became a much more vital, much more courageous thing to be. I’m so glad to have you with me! Let’s move the needle together, if only a little.