The wonder of it, perhaps, is that we just keep going. But we do, here in America.
We fight; we bicker; we call each other names; we impugn each other’s honor and integrity; we threaten, in the event of one electoral outcome or another, to ring down the curtain on prospects for truth, civility, and so on and so forth. And at the end of it — as on Nov. 2, 2004 — we peel off our bumper stickers, roll up our sleeves, and get back to work, cognizant in some degree that what unites us matters more than what pushes us apart.
Not that we journalists are likely to let you in on the secret, not if we can help it. Conflict is what we thrive on: conflict and the endless analysis thereof.
It’s what keeps the customers coming back, day after day: the feudin’, fussin’, and fightin’ — I paraphrase an old country and western song — that are the hallmarks, supposedly, of our public life. Yet, fortunately, journalists don’t get the last say concerning their countrymen.
A signal blessing for which we might properly give thanks at Thanksgiving is our inability to hate each other to the degree you might suppose circumstances dictated.
Americans aren’t good haters. That’s just all there is to it.
Red America, Blue America — the analysts, who love categories, love these two categories exceedingly. They explain so much: the two coasts against the heartland; evangelicals against secularists; Michael Moore enthusiasts against Rush Limbaugh fans. We are advised to regard these divisions as decisive. Except that they rarely prove so.
The reason — which we forget easily, unless prompted — is that America from the start was all about the accommodation of differences. There was not to be just one way; there were to be many. No one was expected to like them all. Who could? Nor was it to be expected that we would refrain from trying to change each other. Don’t even family members work to sand down each other’s rough edges?
No, the idea was that we would talk — sometimes politely, just as often rudely, obnoxiously, maliciously. We’d fight; we’d call names; we’d, come to think of it, do a lot of the things we did, from both philosophical perspectives, during the 2004 electoral campaign.
The campaign, to be sure, was no PTA reception, what with the multitude of voices clamoring to be heard. Especially was this true of the private committees organized under special provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill and left to swing away gleefully in public: loud, obnoxious, disagreeable.
Yet so the American proposition works. We make room for loud, obnoxious and disagreeable.
The American proposition asserts that we’re big enough to fight and then, when the time comes, stop fighting. Not necessarily pulling together but at any rate biding time ’til the next opportunity.
If only they had it so good in Fallujah, Samarra and Baghdad. Which maybe they will some day if the defenders of the American proposition stay steady in their purposes for Iraq, see the election through, and stick around long enough to make democratic handover of power a reality. Thomas Jefferson’s feeblest-minded acolyte wouldn’t suppose Baghdad is likely to become New York or Dallas, not for a century or two at the earliest. Yet the general direction is hopeful: from bombs to bombast, from sudden death to fist-shaking and the odd hysterical yell.
The bedraggled year now drawing to a close has been awful in many respects: too many deaths abroad, too much bile at home. Yet together we remain, and more than tenuously, it seems to me. We’ve had our spats, tantrums and knock-down-drag-outs. Nobody is calling out for the divorce lawyers, not yet.
Thank you, Lord, thank you.