The presidential campaign is over. I spent a while on Tuesday night clicking refresh on various electoral maps before going to bed and was relieved when I woke up at 1 AM. My wife was glowing under her Kindle.
“Anything?” I asked.
“Do you want me to tell you or do you want to see?”
“I want to see.” I put on my glasses.
The race had been called. Romney had conceded and Obama had won by a significant electoral margin and a small popular one.
You may have seen this quote kicking around Facebook, but it’s worth repeating:
We’ve bought into the idea that education is about training and ‘success’, defined monetarily, rather than to think critically and to challenge. We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers. A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.
The quote is attributed to Chris Hedges.
Although it’s not something I focus on much these days, part of my issue with American culture is that everything is economic. Economy trumps everything, except defense and military adventures (see the presidency of George W. Bush for a salient example).
I write. I draw. I dabble in music. I enjoy the creative process in and of itself and have found it difficult to monetize artistic practice. At the same time, I’m concerned about institutional racism, poverty, corporate power, gender, and violence in its many forms. I’ve sought work that stimulates my creativity, but have not been overly interested in commercializing my creativity. I’ve also found meaningful employment in the social work field. I don’t primarily see work as a means of financial gain, but this definition of work is what our society indoctrinates into us. We monetize everything. We are ruled by financial markets. And this is such an ingrained assumption of our civilization that pointing it out is perceived as an act of naivety. I realize this.
When I define myself politically based on my ideals, I describe myself as a cooperative anarchist. I envision a society where people respect each other and practice mutual support. This is not reality. I compromise and define myself as a Democrat based on the viable options.
I feel good when I look at what President Obama has done with his first four years — and here I will suggest that everyone read The New New Deal by Michael Grunwald — and I look forward to what we will accomplish as a country in his second term. I feel hopeful about my prospects as a practitioner of the creative arts. This is not something that I’ve chosen to do as much as it’s who I am, and it’s taken me long enough to sort that out. I’m looking forward to working slowly towards my personal goals. This is a long-term project.
And that is one of the things that I’ve found frustrating about American political culture and American culture in general. We don’t acknowledge that change takes time, that things worth doing don’t usually produce instant results. As I watched Romney criticize Obama for his “failure” to deliver on the promise of Hope and Change in his first term, I saw a vivid illustration of the impatience and short-sightedness of America.
Sometimes I feel that Americans present an attitude of obliviousness regarding how good we’ve got it. Rather than be thankful for our first-world amenities and the security that we do have, we point to our lack. We compare the present to some idealized past or to a good era that we may have experienced in our personal lives. When I listened to Romney speak, when I saw the ads supporting him, I saw an illustration of entitlement. I saw people — and I’ll say it, white people — wanting more. Whining about their lot, ignorant that compared to so many throughout the world, they live opulent lifestyles.
But we are a nation of 300 million diverse individuals, and those of us who recognize our privileges or lack of privileges understand that not everyone is white and middle- or upper-class. We understand that our history is complex. It’s a story of struggle and triumph, of imperialism coupled with democracy, of slavery and freedom. It’s paradoxical. It ain’t easy. Why, then, should we expect our politics to be easy? To move smoothly?
Perhaps it’s because we were taught to remain ignorant of the complexities of our own history. Perhaps its because we’re required, in order to survive the market economy, to specialize, leaving little time for civics. Perhaps it’s both and more.
As a nation, we need to figure these things out. Electing Obama for a second term moves us in the right direction. I celebrate that. Today feels good.
But there’s still a hell of a lot of work to do.