November 3, 2004
Ship of Fools
As promised, I do not blame Kerry. I do not blame his campaign managers. I do not even blame Bush.
I blame you, whomever you are, if you voted for Bush. Because I think it’s more or less clear at this point that a narrow majority of voting Americans voted for Bush.
What comes to pass now, whatever it is, is entirely your responsibility. The nation is yours. Let no one in the defeated 49% indulge themselves with talk of how people were deceived or cheated or stolen from. The left (and some conservatives as well) have a ready supply of theories and arguments that allow them to believe that most people do not make bad choices, but have bad choices made for them, bad choices done to them. The weakest, most crybaby versions of these scapegoat the media or mass culture; the most sophisticated try to think seriously about the historical sources of consciousness and identity. Even the most sophisticated versions are security blankets that keep us from facing the hard truth.
With eyes wide open, in full possession of their faculties, acting as sovereign individuals, around 51% of American voters leapt consciously and clearly into the abyss, taking us with them.
Are you one of them? The nation is yours, but you are not stewards generously preserving something precious to us all. You are destroyers.
Four more years, and then the cycle begins again. I still think that there are people out there who may come to realize that the Bush hardcore do not serve their interests, their desires, their wishes, who can choose another path. People who could not be persuaded, would not let themselves be persuaded in 2004, but who may wise up in 2008.
I also know there are people who cannot or will not choose another path, who are seeking and may find an American authoritarianism or theocracy that will extinguish American democracy for our lifetimes. There are people who want me forgotten, silenced, gone, maybe even dead, people who hate me and anyone like me. Their enemies are not the terrorists: their enemy is other Americans. I will not simply lay down before that hatred. I did not start this fight in that spirit but I am prepared to respond to it if cornered and left no other choice.
51% of the voters now share with their President—their President, not mine, not mine: I am not his loyal subject, though I may be ruled by him—his most abominable trait, the inability to recognize and correct mistakes. As long as I can hope that four years from now, some of them might do so, I can still hope for the rekindling of a common American dream, a shared social reality, a remembered pride in our mutual dreams and hopes. That center is there already: we are not so divided, really. But the leaders of our nation and the people who support them want to forget and trample that commonality.
That may be no hope worth having, and the road there is hard regardless. It will take a complete reconstruction of the demographics and nature of opposition, because—and I hope the left, such as it is, will recognize this—the old coalition of unions, minorities, urbanites, is done. It is finished. It cannot break through. The old hope has always been voter turnout, that there were many in that coalition who did not vote, and in not voting, gave the election to highly mobilized social groups on the right. That hope is broken. As many people voted as probably will ever vote in this election, and the old coalition was not enough. Not enough people, not enough general national resonance in its convictions. Some new alliance, with a new mix of issues and convictions, will have to be made by 2008 that can carry any candidate to victory, not just to the White House but the House and Senate as well. If the next four years bring the crop of suffering and failure that I fully expect them to bring, it may be easier to convince suburbanites, married women, the young, to see where their interests and their rational judgement ought to lie.
But perhaps not. Perhaps the hardcore that hates me and everyone like me, that hates the other 49%, that hates New York and California and Boston and Chicago, hates the cities and the educated and the culture-makers and the secularists, perhaps they cannot be turned or changed or persuaded, any more than I can be on the convictions that form the heart of my lifeworld. Perhaps this is a social conflict so deep and so fundamental that its resolution will never be carried out through electoral politics. Four more years may make no difference. If so, then our time is better spent in a quest for the Fort Sumter of our times and our souls, for the path to the figurative dissolution of our contaminated Union.