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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Conservatives Long For The Sad Days Of Yesteryear

Well, I sure got that one wrong.

Four years ago, on the eve of the last presidential election, I wrote in this space of how the country has spent much of the last three decades “re-litigating” the 1960s, arguing over the changes wrought in that decade. As far as social justice is concerned, of course, the 1960s stand second only to the 1860s as the most profoundly transformative decade in American history. It was in those years that black folks came off the back of the bus, women came out of the kitchen, Hispanics came off the margins and gay people first peeked beyond the closet.

Conservatives have been trying to repeal the decade ever since, a crusade that seemed to reach its greatest clarity and lowest depth in the rush to define a certain jug-eared senator from Illinois who was, in 2008, running for president. He stood to become the first black man to hold that job. This was not an incidental thing.

For his supporters, it helped make him the embodiment of “hope” and “change,” the renewal of inchoate liberal promises that died with Robert F. Kennedy. For his detractors, it was the realization of every paranoia-drenched, racially-tinged threat to the white picket fences and Mom’s apple pie of status quo.

“You know what I hope Barack Obama is?” I wrote in 2008. “I hope he is reconciliation — the end of the 1960s at long last. And the beginning of something new.”

He wasn’t. That’s what I got wrong.

There are, after all, many words you could use to describe the period from 2008 to now. “Reconciliation” is not one of them. To the contrary, the nation has endured a four-year temper tantrum of shrillness and ferocity nearly unparalleled in history. You have to go back to the 1960s, or maybe even the 1850s, to find a time when America was this angry with itself.