This elec­tion is a ref­er­en­dum on de­mo­graphic change

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Leonard Pitts Jr. The Mi­ami Her­ald Leonard Pitts is syn­di­cated by Tri­bune Me­dia Ser­vices.

A black man was elected pres­i­dent and white peo­ple lost their minds.

Not all of them, no. Not even most of them. But not a pid­dling few, ei­ther.

That, in a nut­shell, is the story of Amer­ica’s hate­ful and ob­struc­tion­ist pol­i­tics over the last eight years — and of the nasty, ar­du­ous ex­cuse for a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign that fi­nally ends on Tues­day. Granted, many pun­dits have cho­sen to ex­plain those things in terms of “eco­nomic anx­i­ety,” the fis­cal in­se­cu­rity of the un­der­e­d­u­cated white work­ing class. But here on elec­tion eve can we, for once, be hon­est with our­selves about our­selves?

Not to say that slug­gish eco­nomic growth isn’t a valid con­cern. But that world where men like Archie Bunker could, with a high school ed­u­ca­tion or less, find fac­tory work that would al­low them to buy a house and raise a fam­ily, did not sud­denly dis­ap­pear when the black guy took over at 1600 Penn­syl­va­nia Ave. It’s been gone for quite a while.

And the white guy who pre­ceded the black guy spent a $128 bil­lion sur­plus into an over $400 bil­lion deficit and presided over a cra­ter­ing stock mar­ket and ane­mic job cre­ation, yet for all the grief he was given, no­body ever called him a “sub­hu­man mon­grel.” Law­mak­ers from the other party did not de­clare their re­fusal to work with him on even the most rou­tine mat­ters of gov­er­nance. Peo­ple did not take to show­ing up at his events car­ry­ing ri­fles. No­body shouted, “I want my coun­try back!”

So as much as or more than it is a ref­er­en­dum on the econ­omy — or for­eign pol­icy, or ter­ror­ism — this elec­tion is a ref­er­en­dum on de­mo­graphic change. A na­tion that elected a black guy pres­i­dent and en­shrined the right of same-sex mar­riage into law, a na­tion where Mus­lims, trans­gen­der peo­ple and Span­ish speak­ers are more vis­i­ble and ris­ing higher than ever be­fore, will now tell us how it feels about all that, whether it is ready to plunge ahead into the un­know­able fu­ture or whether it will seek refuge in a sepia-toned past that never was.

The Repub­li­can Party’s pref­er­ence is no mys­tery. To suc­ceed the first black pres­i­dent, it put forth a racist en­thu­si­as­ti­cally sup­ported by the Ku Klux Klan. To op­pose the first woman to be a ma­jor party can­di­date, it of­fered a misog­y­nist trail­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual as­sault. “Make Amer­ica great again,” in­deed.

Every four years, pun­dits solemnly in­tone the same cliche: “This is an im­por­tant elec­tion.” Fact is, they’re all im­por­tant elec­tions. Choos­ing a leader for the eco­nomic and mil­i­tary gi­ant of the planet is, by def­i­ni­tion, con­se­quen­tial.

That said, this coun­try finds it­self fac­ing an elec­toral de­ci­sion starker and more por­ten­tous than any in mod­ern mem­ory. We don’t just choose new poli­cies on Tues­day, nor even a new vi­sion. No, we choose iden­tity. We de­cide who and what we are.

Are we a back­ward-look­ing na­tion de­fined by those who lost their minds be­cause a black guy was elected pres­i­dent? Or are we a for­ward-fac­ing peo­ple, chal­lenged by change but never shy­ing from it, never so ter­ri­fied by it as to be­tray our fun­da­men­tal selves?

The thing is, change doesn’t care what we de­cide. It comes re­gard­less, and you can no more ques­tion it than you can grav­ity. The tooth­paste won’t go back into the tube, the gay peo­ple back into the closet, the women back into the kitchen nor the African Amer­i­cans back to the rear of the bus.

The past will not be re­stored. So the only ques­tion here is how we will re­spond to the fu­ture. With fear or faith? With cow­ardice or courage? It’s time for us all to take a deep breath.

And de­cide.

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