Look­ing back at the year we lost our­selves

Merced Sun-Star (Saturday) - - Opinion - BY LEONARD PITTS JR. [email protected]­amiher­ald.com Leonard Pitts Jr. is a colum­nist for the Mi­ami Her­ald.

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. We mark mile­stones reached, but re­mem­ber all we have lost along the way. Per­sonal losses: a dad, a friend, a child, a sib­ling who once was here but has since turned to mem­ory.

It’s a mo­ment for re­mem­ber­ing 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 ser­rated vo­cals lifted the Temp­ta­tions to “Cloud Nine.” We lost the Queen, Aretha Franklin, whose voice was a fire burn­ing away ev­ery­thing but truth. And we lost Stan “The Man” Lee, the ge­nius who let us be­lieve in spi­der pow­ers, mis­un­der­stood mu­tants and the sov­er­eign na­tion of Wakanda. ‘Nuff said.

But the sig­na­ture loss this year was nei­ther per­sonal nor pub­lic. No, 2018 is the year we lost our­selves.

Amer­i­cans cher­ish their self-im­age of be­ing no­ble, com­pas­sion­ate, self­less and de­fined by vi­sion, val­ues and ver­i­ties that make us unique. As Bruce Spring­steen sang in Long Walk Home, “That flag fly­ing over the court­house means cer­tain things are set in stone – who we are, what we’ll do, and what we won’t.”

He sang that in 2007, when the Iraq War and Hur­ri­cane Katrina were fresh wounds. But his as­ser­tion of Amer­i­can iden­tity seems crit­i­cal now in ways unimag­in­able then.

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

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

A na­tion where the gov­ern­ment ig­nored a gov­ern­ment re­port fore­cast­ing dire cli­mate con­se­quences.

A na­tion where Repub­li­cans com­mit voter sup­pres­sion and acts of po­lit­i­cal thug­gery in plain sight. A na­tion that tear gasses chil­dren in di­a­pers. “This isn’t us.” That’s what peo­ple keep say­ing. But it is us. The sit­u­a­tional moral­ity, the abid­ing anger, the dis­re­gard for fact, the po­lit­i­cal gang­ster­ism – these things are what Amer­ica now stands for. And when Spring­steen sings of “who we are,” well, who the hell are we? And yet ...

This was the year women ran for of­fice in block­buster num­bers, as Democrats won the House, picked up red-state gov­er­nor­ships and served no­tice. For all the talk of a blue wave, this was ac­tu­ally a wave of youth, fem­i­nin­ity and color. Vot­ers sent to Congress its first Na­tive Amer­i­can and Mus­lim women and the youngest con­gress­woman ever, a 29-year-old Latina named Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez.

You don’t try to stop peo­ple from vot­ing (as hap­pened in Ge­or­gia, Florida and else­where) if you don’t think their can­di­dates will win. You don’t strip win­ners of power (as in Wis­con­sin) if you don’t fear what that vic­tory means.

So yes, con­ser­va­tives un­der­stand what hap­pened, and they’re scared. Lib­er­als must un­der­stand that, too. It will lend them hope. That hope can 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.

An old Chi-Lites song says, “Give more power to the peo­ple.” But in a democ­racy, power is not of­ten given; it is taken. That’s some­thing the left once knew but some­how for­got un­til, per­haps, just now.

Spring­steen was right. It’s go­ing to be a long walk home. But for the first time in a very long time, we seem to re­mem­ber the way.

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