The year we lost our­selves

Belleville News-Democrat (Sunday) - - News - BY LEONARD PITTS JR.

Should old ac­quain­tance be for­got and never brought to mind? Of course not.

As a year ticks into its fi­nal hours, old ac­quain­tances are front of mind, some­times painfully so. It lends a cer­tain me­lan­choly sweet­ness to the whole rit­ual. We mark a mile­stone reached, but we also re­mem­ber all that we have lost along the way.

Mean­ing per­sonal losses, yes: a dad, a friend, a child, a hus­band or a sis­ter who once was here but has since turned to mem­ory. But it’s a mo­ment for re­mem­ber­ing our pub­lic losses, too.

Like Sen. John McCain and for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush, two tow­er­ing states­men who died at a time when states­man­ship is in short sup­ply. We lost Den­nis Edwards, whose raw, ser­rated vo­cals lifted the Temp­ta­tions to “Cloud Nine.” We lost the Queen, Aretha Franklin, whose voice was a ki­netic fire, burn­ing away ev­ery­thing but truth. And we lost

Stan “The Man” Lee, the cre­ative ge­nius who made gen­er­a­tions of us be­lieve in spi­der pow­ers, misun- der­stood mu­tants, a rain­bow bridge and the sov­er­eign na­tion of Wakanda. ’Nuff said.

But the sig­na­ture loss of this year was nei­ther per­sonal nor pub­lic. No, 2018 will go down as the year we lost our­selves. Although, granted, we’ve been los­ing our­selves for a while now.

Amer­i­cans cher­ish a self-image as a peo­ple who, while they may make a wrong turn here and there, are ul­ti­mately noble, ul­ti­mately com­pas­sion­ate, ul­ti­mately self­less and ul­ti­mately driven and de­fined by vi­sion, val­ues and ver­i­ties that make us unique among na­tions.

Mean­ing, back be­fore we were a na­tion where sur­vivors of a mass shoot­ing were de­rided as “cri­sis ac­tors.”

A na­tion whose pres­i­dent de­fends Rus­sia and Saudi Ara­bia against the Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity.

A na­tion where Repub­li­cans com­mit voter sup­pres­sion and other acts of po­lit­i­cal thug­gery in plain sight.

A na­tion that used tear gas against chil­dren in di­a­pers.

“This isn’t us.” That’s what peo­ple keep say­ing. But it is. That’s the en­tire point. The abid­ing anger, the sit­u­a­tional mo­ral­ity, the dis­re­gard for fact, the cru­elty, the po­lit­i­cal gang­ster­ism, th­ese things are what Amer­ica, writ large, now stands for. And yet . . .

This was the year women ran for of­fice in block­buster num­bers, as Democrats won the House, picked up red­state gu­ber­na­to­rial wins and served no­tice. Be­cause for all the talk of a blue wave, this was ac­tu­ally a wave of youth, fem­i­nin­ity and color as Demo­cratic vot­ers sent to Congress its first Na­tive Amer­i­can and Mus­lim women and the youngest con­gress­woman ever, a 29-year-old Latina ac­tivist named Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez. Yes, 2018 was also the year Stacey Abrams, An­drew Gil­lum and Beto O'Rourke lost their races in Ge­or­gia, Florida and Texas, re­spec­tively, but even in that, they elec­tri­fied the elec­torate, frac­tur­ing the con­ven­tional wis­dom that a pro­gres­sive agenda can­not gain trac­tion.

So yes, conservatives un­der­stand what hap­pened here, and it has them scared. Lib­er­als must un­der­stand it, too. It will lend them hope. And hope, one hopes, will breed new ac­tivism and in­volve­ment, will help peo­ple who may not have con­sid­ered pol­i­tics be­fore to re­al­ize that they have the abil­ity and the re­spon­si­bil­ity to cre­ate gov­ern­ment that looks like all of us and re­flects the ma­jor­ity’s val­ues. Maybe this, in turn, will breed more waves of youth, fem­i­nin­ity and color, as more of us de­cide to take Amer­ica at its word about form­ing that more per­fect union.

Maybe this year means all of that. Or at least, so we are now em­pow­ered to hope. Email Leonard Pitts Jr. at [email protected]­ami­her­ald.com.

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