Saturday, November 05, 2016

How the other half lives

The Times Magazine has a sobering story by Jim Yardley, a foreign correspondent who, after a decade working abroad (China, India and Italy), came back to see for himself "What is going on in the United States?" It's not a pretty picture: inequality, bigotry, conspiracy theories and political dysfunction.

I suppose this is how our news covers other countries...! But it reminds me what a bubble I live in, that it's a bubble. And it only deepens the sense of gloom and dread of this endless nightmare of a presidential race. (I'm one of the many Americans whose sleep is disrupted by it, though not every night.) Are the "American experiment," democracy bubbles too?

I went back in my diary to see if I had felt similarly spooked before. The closest was 2004. The pain was twofold (and yes, in this order): that a vision of America I believed in might lose, and that so many people didn't share that vision. This second took the form of a specter I've carried wth me since: the many who feel just as I do, on the other side. (Remember that more people voted against Obama than voted for any president before him.) Many of them have a vision which permits - even encourages - them to see those who don't share it as enemies to be knocked out any way they can. Many on my "side" have a similar view, too. I can't. I dream still of mutual understanding, broadening consensus and shared values, and take heart at every piece of evidence that American polarization is exaggerated and superficial. I like the prosaic slogan "Stronger Together," a lot. It's what I believe.

Perhaps that faith is the superficial one, a refusal of the reality that where there are winners there must be losers, of the heartbreak that is politics. I think it's the deeper faith, but this heart is breaking.

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