Blue States Press
These could be the final days of a
By LEONARD PITTS jr.
Maybe this is where America ends.
A reader raised that notion in an e-mail to me even before this week's election. Dismayed at the fractures and fissures exposed by an acrimonious presidential campaign and despairing of ever putting this Humpty Dumpty together again, he advanced a radical thesis.
We are, he pointed out, a nation founded not on common ancestry but rather, shared ideals: liberty and justice for all. Maybe, he said, that sort of bond ultimately cannot hold. It would be no surprise to him, he wrote, to see the U.S. split into two or more separate countries in his lifetime. He is 32.
I intend no endorsement of his prediction when I say that it struck me hard -- mainly because I could not airily dismiss it. Could not say with certainty that it will not happen.
If and when it does, some observers will be primed to blame so-called hyphenated Americanism. But it seems apparent after this week that the fissure that divides us most dramatically is less about race or ethnicity than something larger: culture, an unresolved clash of worldviews, mores and norms. It's the morality, stupid.
Indeed, CNN reports that more exit poll respondents called that the most important issue of the election than cited Iraq, the economy or terrorism. Morality is, of course, a code word for antipathy toward gay rights and abortion. Those who shared that antipathy voted overwhelmingly for President Bush.
To say I am merely depressed that he was reelected is to say the Titanic sustained a little paint damage. I speak not from any particular affinity for John Kerry but, rather, from a conviction that Bush's peculiar combination of faith-based zealotry and utter incompetence constitute a clear and present danger to national security and international stability.
After his reelection, someone sent me a note. Maybe now you'll understand, he crowed, that you don't represent America. This, based on a victory margin of 3 percent.
The president has issued honeyed words about reaching across ideological lines in the name of national unity. But given that he followed his last election -- an even narrower victory -- by turning to the right on two wheels, it seems a safe bet that he'll take from this victory the same moral as my correspondent. He'll think he's found himself a mandate.
Small wonder that everywhere I go, people are talking about moving to Canada. That's the kind of joke you make when you no longer recognize your country.
That disconnect is not about liberalism vs. conservatism. Agree with them or disagree -- I've done both -- there is a certain pragmatism to traditional conservatives. You know where they're coming from: small government; personal responsibility; fiscal restraint. And their arguments are usually grounded in something recognizable as logic.
But social conservatism is another thing entirely, a mutant strain unhindered by critical thought. These are the nominal Christians whose Bibles are so long on judgment yet so short on compassion, the soldiers of the new American theocracy who want to force creation ''science'' on the schools and deportation on the Muslims. They are the super patriots who regard criticism as treason, the pious moralizers who believe single mothers should be barred from teaching in public schools. They are blind guides who see tens of thousands dying in Iraq and think the defining issue of the election is what gay men do in bed. They give God a bad name.
And their chosen leader is about to embark on his second term as president of the United States.
One nation splitting in two? I hope my reader is wrong.
But if he is not, Tuesday will loom large in history to those seeking to understand why. They'll call it the day the end began.