‘My triumphalism says as much about my tribalism as it does about any genuine concern for the USA.’
As we went to press, one of the two old men offered up to the US public was still contesting the presidential election result. Nothing wrong with age, of course, though this was not much of a demonstration of the old adage that it brings wisdom. Some were calling it the most important vote in US history, and perhaps I’m not old/wise enough to know. For me, the headline race, and the contenders, said more about the past than the future.
Underneath the headlines, however, were flashes of a different picture. The first vice president not to be an old white man, of course. But North Carolina also elected the youngest member of Congress in modern history; and New Mexico chose its first all-female congressional delegation, all women of colour. Missouri sent the state’s first black woman to Congress, a veteran Black Lives Matter activist. The US got its first trans state senator and first black gay congressman. Mauree Turner became the country’s first ever non-binary state lawmaker. Mississippi voted for a new flag without confederate references; Florida raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour; Portland opted for universal pre-school care. And in Ohio the moral arc of the universe proved itself pretty short when a member of Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, who said she had been fired because she was a lesbian, ran against her old boss. She’s the sheriff now.
For me there is much to be optimistic about in these results. But I have to confess that my triumphalism says as much about my tribalism as it does about any genuine concern for the USA. My ‘side’ won those contests, and ya boo to the rest. This shames me. The elections showed that western society remains deeply polarised. The chasm between these sides feels existential. And crowing about any particular result will not bring us together.
Some of the challenges we face over the next months, years and generations are obvious to us. But our perspective on them will be different depending on how high we have been able to get up the protective ground. As we scoff at the moral positions of those who haven’t been allowed to scramble up as far, what they see is smug entitlement. Others who have reached some high and safe ground fear it slipping away underneath them. Whether or not that fear is misplaced does not make it any less frightening in the short term.
It is common now to hear Jo Cox’s quote about us having more in common with each other than what divides us, but I’m not convinced that we really believe it. Too many of our conversations with those of different views are over before they’ve begun. We have closed ranks, turned up our noses, and decided that people, as well as their policies, are distasteful. This will not do.
Let me be clear: the campaign against prejudice never stops. We do not need to pander to bigotry, ever. But amid the calls for healing it might be time for us to consider whether we have inflicted any wounds of our own.
Joe is editor of the Friend.
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