It’s been years since I last set down to write anything long form that’s remotely political, in fact 2008, if my search is correct. In some ways, I can hardly recognize that passionately pedantic punk that felt the urge to scream into the void in the hope of persuasion by shouting (though my friends might argue about that on the occasions when I have more than a couple of gins in me). I realized around that time that no one was really interested in what I was selling and that I could spend my life in a happier place by worrying about the things that I know I could change which is myself and to focus my time on those around me that I love. I know I’ve been better off for it.
However, I can’t pretend that last night wasn’t historic or momentous. I am feeling the urge to write something not in the hope of being persuasive or to change the world, but because last night was tragic in a personal and long-term way. It brought back memories and beliefs of my younger days that I don’t think I will be able to restore from this day forth and I want memorialize them somewhere.
At just before midnight last night when it was apparent what was going to happen, I had a sudden and vivid flashback to a time almost 15 years ago. One night my dear friend Iva and I got into a heated and hours long debate about the idea that the US was headed towards nationalism. As the child of citizens of the former Yugoslavia, she brought both logic and personal experience to her argument. And yet, I could not be persuaded.
I argued fervently that America was different, not because we were special as a people but that we were special in situation. A country founded purely on a set of enlightenment philosophical ideals, populated by immigrants of almost every country and religion and with a fundamental belief in pluralism couldn’t really be nationalist. Yes, I wasn’t naïve enough to ignore our history of racial hatred and apartheid. Nor was I naïve enough to say that we hadn’t had a certain segment of the population that subscribed to nativist and ethnic nationalist ideals; I was already quite familiar with Pat Buchanan. However, I was unable to believe that as a young country with a complete lack of common ethnic, religious and cultural history that we could really ever become nationalists. On that, I was wrong.
Last night I watched my country subscribe to a political philosophy that has destroyed the entirety of Europe twice in the 20th century. Last night I watched my country subscribe to a political philosophy that has left piles of corpses, broken bodies and weeping widows around the entire globe. Last night I watched my country subscribe to a political philosophy that throws away the enlightenment in pursuit of a philosophy that bestows rights and privileges upon its subjects on the basis of their religion, ethnicity and the coincidence of the geography of their birth. Last night I watched my country scream an incoherent cry of rage at people who are now to be labeled as the other, as the not-quite-human, as the enemy. Last night I saw the ideals that has made me love my country abandoned, maybe forever. Last night I saw no better angels of our nature. But I hope that I am wrong.
Now I am left to put my trust in our political machinery to temper and restrain the normal products of the adoption of nationalism. As a life long libertarian, that trust isn’t very sturdy in my mind. I don’t see how a party unified in its abhorrence of intellectualism can be trusted to uphold the abstract ideals of classical liberalism. I don’t see how a state equipped with an entire legion of well armed militarized police can be trusted to defend the people against authoritarianism. I don’t see how a country divided at a moment of incredible prosperity and peace can heal itself under the strain of the chaos in front of us. But I hope I am wrong.
Now, I must go back to my quiet life. I can’t go back to screaming into the void. I can’t see the point and I don’t have the strength or will to do it. I must go back to trying to see the best in everyone I meet. I must go believing that people are fundamentally good both as individuals and in society. I must start hoping I’m wrong.