Looking back at the year we lost ourselves
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.