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. 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. JohnMcCain 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.