Tuesday night was such a wild ride, my house full of wonderful people – neighbors and church folk and teenagers and toddlers – and we had great food and drink and conversation, much celebrating in the streets when the networks called it, singing and dancing and laughing, hugging, pots clanging, champagne all around. Most folks had to go home and put kids to bed, or put themselves to bed so they could get to work in the morning, but a few of us hung in there until the end, cuddled up on the futon couch in the basement, trying to stay awake to hear the President speak.
It was quite a night.
Yesterday, though, and today, I feel so somber and reflective. Partly it’s because I’m tired, having slept very little Tuesday night, and having celebrated excessively. At my age it takes several days to recover.
But mostly I feel awed. And humbled.
Just eight years ago, when the Republican party – with Karl Rove and Dick Cheney at the helm – was riling up its base with anti-marriage equality amendments all over the country, it never ever would have occurred to me that in just two election cycles we would have popular votes in four states come down on the side of marriage equality. In 2004 I lived with genuine fear that things were going to get worse and worse. In my more paranoid moments I lay awake at night and made plans for how we would get to Canada or Sweden, start a new life, if things got hateful enough here. It seemed then that we were heading so clearly in that direction.
Just four years later this country elected a black president. This too was something I never thought I would see in my lifetime. And then, after the most hateful, racist, xenophobic campaign of character assassination perpetuated by so many on the right – not just the wing-nuts, but folks their candidate was happy to shake hands with (like Donald Trump) and supposedly mainstream pundits (like Mary Matalin, who yesterday called the President of the United States a sociopath) – against a man who, no matter what you think of his policies and his politics, any reasonable, rational human being has to acknowledge is at the very least a decent and thoughtful man – after all that, we reelected him! Quite handily, in fact.
I’ve never felt prouder and more hopeful to be an American. True, the Republican party has sunk into a swamp of, as Andrew Sullivan calls it, “epistemic closure,” and it is startling to face the reality that so many in our country have been sucked into that muck. But really, that’s just human beings. We are so easily sucked into muck. In any case, I am heartened to see that some folks in the GOP are starting to get it, are starting to do some serious introspection, want to bring their party back from the brink, to be a thoughtful, reasonable alternative to the Democratic party.
And I welcome that. In many ways, I’m actually a fairly moderate person politically. My idealism is pretty radical and unorthodox, but I’m not a revolutionary. I think it’s fine for things to move at a relatively measured pace, to bring folks along rather than bludgeon them. Of course there are issues I care passionately about that I would love to see changed overnight – like ending war and truly reforming our educational system, just for two examples, issues of life and death, where the stakes are so urgent – but the truth is, things just don’t change over night. I really believe that change happens because the foot soldiers at the grass roots keep putting one foot in front of the other, even in the face of derision and mocking and the suggestion that their efforts are futile, until one day the walls come down.
I’m so grateful for all those foot soldiers. We need them now on the left to remind us all, and especially our President, that while we love him, and are so glad he won this election, he has some serious work to do. Close down Guantanamo, Mr. President, end extra-judicial assassination and the drone strikes, and please please please fire Arnie Duncan, like yesterday! I encourage everyone who supported the president but who disagrees with him passionately on any issue to let him know — to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
And on the right, I really do hope now that the good people in the GOP – and there are many, many of them – will start that same work to bring their own party back from the brink. Schadenfreude aside (and OK, we Democrats deserve to enjoy a little of that, for sure!), I do think our greatest hope for continuing to move forward as a country is that those good Republicans will succeed.