A long time ago, when the world was young – 1961, actually – Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, in one of their last collaborations, created the musical Camelot. We know the plot: Camelot was the wondrous kingdom created by King Arthur. But Queen Guinevere fell in love with Lancelot and was discovered in flagrante, or as close as you could get back then. In the ensuing ruckus, Camelot collapsed.
Towards the end, Guinevere reflects on the way passion comes – and departs: “And after all has been said,” she muses, “Here we are, my love, Silent once more – and not far, my love, From where we were before.”
On November 3, the country dodged bullet number 7,451, confirming, for the moment, Otto von Bismarck’s dictum that God protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America. We voted. We didn’t blow each other up. We’re bruised, with black eyes and split lips. But we’re still standing. You should see the other guys.
Now comes the scary part: “We’re going in with our lawyers,” says President Trump. Picture the phalanx of screaming monkeys in Wizard of Oz: It’ll be like that, only worse.
Still, this purgatory of the Counting of the Votes clarifies things: No matter who wins, we’ll still be stuck with the godawful politics that produced it.
Did we deserve this?
Granted, we deserved at least some of it. Maybe it all started with Watergate. Maybe it began earlier, as the Vietnam War exposed the chasm between what U.S. officials were telling us and what we were willing to believe. Maybe it started even farther back, with the Kennedy assassination, when the country’s opinion of the way the world worked was blown up by a demonstration from a single lunatic.
But it’s a long road from those origins to what we see now, with businesses boarding up their windows to protect themselves from the 2020 post-election violence they fear. It required the emergence of a president with an almost unrivaled ear for the resentments felt by half of his fellow citizens and the almost unrivaled lack of restraint from which the other half recoiled.
It required Donald Trump, and we’ve reaped his whirlwind. Whoever wins this election, we won’t be far from where we were before. We’ll be left with the huge gulfs between segments of our population and between the official account of the state of the nation and the country’s condition as Americans experience it.
So, what now? There’s nothing for it but to start building back the missing pieces of the foundation. The role of a publication like American Purpose is to haul a few contributory bricks into place.
We won’t be calling people Marxists or fascists (notwithstanding the fact that there are some of them out there). We’re going to have to live within the bounds of federalism, which will limit the reach of ambitious policies. We’ll have to recognize that the strongest political allegiance of most Americans is to their local communities, not some national party or ideology. We’ll have to make room, the believers and non-believers among us, for the critical role of religion in our national life. We’ll have to live with diversity and the limits it will place on the possibility of a single, shared civic religion. We’ll have to develop some empathy for people who are being left behind by our new technology-addled world.
In short, we’ll have to grow up. If we manage to do that, maybe we won’t be stuck where we were before. American Purpose will try to do its part, and we hope you’ll join us.
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