Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rage devours hope

  • Print

Well, I sure got that one wrong.

Four years ago, on the eve of the last presidential election, I wrote in this space of how the U.S. has spent much of the last three decades "re-litigating" the 1960s, arguing over the changes wrought in that decade.

As far as social justice is concerned, of course, the 1960s stand second only to the 1860s as the most profoundly transformative decade in American history. It was in those years black folks came off the back of the bus, women came out of the kitchen, Hispanics came off the margins and gay people first peeked beyond the closet.

Conservatives have been trying to repeal the decade ever since, a crusade that seemed to reach its greatest clarity and lowest depth in the rush to define a certain jug-eared senator from Illinois who was, in 2008, running for president. He stood to become the first black man to hold that job. This was not an incidental thing.

For his supporters, it helped make him the embodiment of "hope" and "change," the renewal of inchoate liberal promises that died with Robert F. Kennedy. For his detractors, it was the realization of every paranoia-drenched, racially tinged threat to the white picket fences and Mom's apple pie of status quo.

"You know what I hope Barack Obama is?" I wrote in 2008. "I hope he is reconciliation -- the end of the 1960s at long last. And the beginning of something new."

He wasn't. That's what I got wrong.

There are, after all, many words you could use to describe the period from 2008 to now. "Reconciliation" is not one of them. To the contrary, the nation has endured a four-year temper tantrum of shrillness and ferocity nearly unparalleled in history. You have to go back to the 1960s, or maybe even the 1850s, to find a time when America was this angry with itself.

Far from putting the '60s to rest, we have seen a fresh assault on what had previously been considered the settled gains of that era. I mean, who could have predicted this election season would see debates on women's reproductive health? Or, that we'd have to defend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Or that the state of Arizona would ban ethnic studies classes? Or that there would be a new attack on the right of public workers to unionize?

And that's not to mention the new onslaught of coded racial slurs. They still say Obama wasn't born in the U.S.A. Just the other day, Mitt Romney surrogate John Sununu, honest to God, called him "lazy."

Lord, have mercy. It's like they can't help themselves.

"Restore Our Future" goes the name of a conservative super-PAC. It seems increasingly obvious, though, that the idea here is to restore our past. Except, it's less a real past than a collective yearning for the perceived simplicity and normalcy of yesterday.

And it is not "ours" in any sense, belonging instead to the collective memory of those who had the colour, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation that signified rightness back in that mythic long ago.

In a word, it is not real -- and never was.

Yet, the power it holds over conservative minds is proved in the decibel level of the temper tantrum, the desperate fury of the resistance. We have seen rocks flying through windows and weapons taken to presidential speeches. We have seen the president called the Antichrist and accused of favouring white slavery. We have seen brazen schemes of voter suppression that must have Fannie Lou Hamer spinning in her grave.

Now, finally, we see Election Day. You will find no words about reconciliation here this time around, no suggestion the '60s might finally be at an end.

Just a lament for the naive optimism that made such a suggestion possible -- and for a nation where, these days, optimism is often devoured by rage.

It turns out the mythic past dies harder than anyone ever knew.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

-- The Miami Herald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 5, 2012 A11

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Key of Bart - Evil Las Vegas

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
  • A young gosling flaps his wings after taking a bath in the duck pond at St Vital Park Tuesday morning- - Day 21– June 12, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Have you decided which mayoral candidate will get your vote?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google