NO MORE PROPHECIES
Close enough to touch now, political upheaval feels different than expected.
With a President Obama in office, it was possible to sustain the complicated fiction that the twin values of excellence and progress are still core to the nation’s trajectory. As millions of protestors in our cities and at our airports over the past two weeks have demonstrated, parts of that story are undoubtedly true. Even under a President Hillary Clinton – or a President Jeb Bush – we could have kept telling it. But President Trump and the events since his inauguration make it impossible to do that.
Giving up this storytelling tradition will be painful, especially for well-intentioned fans of more recent retellings likeThe West Wing and Hamilton, who fervently want to believe that underneath a history of tragic missteps, our Constitution and system of checks and balances can keep the dream alive. As we heard over and over for the last eight years, the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice. Only now, that arc looks more like a rainbow: a trick of the light visible under certain conditions for people standing in just the right place.
The conditions we chose to create as individuals delivered one aggregate outcome: our current reality. This was not an excellent decision. The ugly question now facing us is whether public commitment to small-d democratic values and ideals can be sustained in the United States without a consistent narrative of American excellence. Put another way: can we be imaginative enough to act on our hopes for a better future without leaning on the old prophecy of a shining rock upon a hill, the greatest nation in the world?
Along with so much else, our contributors this issue discover directly and otherwise what it feels like to be out from under that magical feeling.
As always, thank you for reading.