I can’t share the sense of celebration today.
Last night, I guest-blogged the election returns here and I felt pretty good. Obama won; it’s historically important, and he has both much better ideas and much greater competence than the mediocrity the Republicans ran against him. Both houses are firmly in Democratic hands, and hopefully we can start to undo the damage that the conservative ascendency did to the judiciary. That’s all good.
But I can’t cheer because it looks like Prop 8 passed. I know some folks still believe the uncounted mail-in ballots will make up the 400,000 vote margin. I don’t believe it. I think California, one of only three states to recognize queer folks as full legal equals, just amended its Constitution to take that away.
On a thread the other day I asked what I would tell my children if Prop 8 passed. With this tight feeling in my throat, I’ve been trying to answer that question all day. I have to tell them that that America will always break their hearts. That the political entity formed with such expansive promise has always fallen short, that the American people, in whole or in part, have had to be dragged forward to the light, away from division and injustice, step by step, for our entire history as an independent country: that even at this late date, we remain so, so far. I have to tell them that Americans, even in the blue states, are a tolerant but not an accepting people — we want to extend our tolerance, by our leave, and not to greet all of our own on equal footing. That we want to condition our extension of rights; to preserve the legal demarcations that ratify condescension.
We always know it’s wrong, and we always do it again. From the Trail of Tears to Korematsu to Gitmo, from the sellout of Reconstruction to the about-face on marriage equality, we so often do the wrong thing. We’re always sorry … after the fact. But so often when we’re at the point of doing the right thing, we turn our backs and do the wrong thing.
I keep writing “we.” I have to tell my children that we fail, that we do the wrong thing. This is a representative government; a whole polity. We is not the United States of Blue States. We rejected secession, and buried 660,000 people to make all of us live under the same Constitution. We are Massachusetts, but We are Mississippi. We are Washington, but We are Missouri. And today We are all California. And We failed.
No We can’t.
Kipling, arch-colonialist and racist but a damned fine poet at times, wrote in “If”:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
Today is a day of both triumphs and disasters. When we went to bed last night, We were not saved, if maybe a little more than We had been the day before. And this morning We are more broken than We were when We went to bed. But today as yesterday, We fail, and We fall short, and We do the wrong thing, and our country is broken. So I’m not celebrating. And that the ways We fail often benefit me personally isn’t a comfort — it’s a rebuke of my complicity. Every day I benefit from it I cheat people who’ve never wronged me; who I’ve never met.
I’m going downstairs now to the drugstore near my office, and I’m going to get some black electrical tape, and I’m going to wear it over my wedding band, and I’m going to tell people that what happened is wrong. I need to do whatever I can to fix this, so that when my kids are old enough to ask, I have a better answer than “No We Can’t.”
Update: Angela in comments pointed out that quoting Kipling, at this historic moment, shows a lack of judgment. I agree, and I apologize. Hiding the mistake, in my view, will do less good than acknowledging it, so I’m leaving it there, with my apology here.
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