The United States of America is not a “fait accompli” to be taken for granted during this weekend’s birthday festivities.
The “United States” is our destiny — our future destination.
Anyone paying attention to current events knows we have a long, long way to go on unification. We are as politically polarized and racially divided as ever.
There is very little United about the States of America.
Instead we are a nation of pendulum swings — left to right then right to left, otherwise known as “Red vs. Blue.”
The current rightward swing began in 1978 when Proposition 13 passed in California, followed closely by the election of Ronald Reagan. The anti-tax and anti-government movements have ruled our politics for 37 years.
That is, until last week’s trifecta of Supreme Court rulings (health care reform is here to stay, marriage is for all, and states can’t discriminate against minorities on housing), plus the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment the week before.
The previous pendulum swing (to the left) started in 1929 with the Great Stock Market Crash and the onset of the Depression, followed closely in 1932 by the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
If the swinging pendulum is a viable model for our political mood swings, then the low point comes whenever the pendulum is in the middle, dangling halfway between right and left, where it has been stuck for the past decade or so. When it bottoms out like that, the pendulum doesn’t swing. It inches.
The right (free market is king, government sucks, individualism is the state religion, wealth should be created by the few and trickle down to the many) has been the dominant political force for 37 years but has been losing ground for a number of years.
And the right knows it, which is why they’re so desperate to hold on. So the more accurate metaphor might be an epic tug-of-war, with the loser ending up face down in the mudpit of history.
And with the recent Supreme Court rulings, the pendulum (or rope) inched over to the progressive side for the first time in almost four decades. That swing is likely to continue and gain momentum with the 2016 presidential election — which would be a very welcome development indeed for this country.
Because when the pendulum is stuck in the middle, political polarization intensifies. The right knows it’s losing and the left knows it’s gaining, so both sides redouble their efforts. Division and demonization follow, dominating our civic discourse. Many, many frustrated progressives have been waiting for this momentum shift for a very long time. Likewise, many, many frustrated conservatives can’t believe their hold on the body politic is slipping through their fingers.
That’s a prescription for combative animosity.
Which is probably why, on the right, we’re seeing violence against African Americans, the proliferation of guns and mass murder, stubborn support for economic inequality, obsessive opposition to health care reform, and the inflexible extremism that has infected the Republican Party.
When you’re fighting a losing battle (and desperate to reverse what cannot be reversed), you start acting in very strange ways (like considering Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, et al, as serious presidential contenders).
Older progressives know all about losing ground and ending up in the mudpit. But we dragged ourselves out, regained our dignity, and learned a few lessons along the way.
Is there hope for the “United” States? Absolutely. We are not destined to become the United States’ Rights of America.
When this country’s problems (climate change, campaign financing, immigration policy, gerrymandering of legislative districts, economic inequality, gun rights without corresponding responsibility, troubled race relations, crumbling infrastructure, and paralyzed government, just to name a few) become so clearly defined — and when only one side of the political spectrum has reasonable ideas for addressing them — it’s not hard to see in which direction we’re heading.
The demographics do not favor the right and it’s going to get worse for them with each presidential election. As soon as minority voters realize they also have to turn out for off-year Congressional elections, the Republicans’ extended vacation in Congress will be over.
This country is changing — rapidly. And that’s a very good thing.
While the right stews in the mudpit and tries to figure out what went wrong, the rest of the country will move forward, as unified as we ever get.
And if the left learned enough important lessons during their 37 years in political descendency, maybe they can avoid the arrogance and complacency that caused the pendulum to swing the other way in 1978 — and away from the right more recently.
Maybe we can emerge from the pendulum’s vicious cycles and create a new paradigm, producing a country where the needs of the many take precedence over the greed of the few; where instead of hating government, we can make it work more effectively for the good of all; and where our country’s name will be more than a romantic aspiration.
We’ll be more than a confederacy of states’ rights, fulfill our destiny and finally arrive at our desti-nation: a genuine community, based on equity, dignity and mutual respect.
The United States of America.