Few people can escape a degree of nostalgic amplification of how much their present conditions differ from their pasts. Sometimes they frame narratives of redemption — “I was a depraved sinner, but now I’m clean,” or “The oppressors had their boot on our necks, but we finally threw off the chains of our servitude” — and sometimes they’re myths of a Golden Age from which we’ve fallen (on one hand, the ideal American Family Home of Eisenhower’s fifties, or the social activism of the sixties and early seventies). Granted that there’s a decent chance that things are getting better or worse (though we shouldn’t minimize the likelihood that life continues at a pretty steady state of trading off improvements and decline), experience teaches us that people show a strong tendency to exaggerate the scale of the alleged change over time.
That being said: in the past weeks, we’ve seen the ludicrous antics of Boston politicians accusing ingenious PR flacks of inciting terror (when the “terror” had more to do with the law enforcement officials’ ignorance than any danger associated with the LED advertisements) and the disingenuousness of the Bush regime’s effort to escalate their war against Iraq, to Joe Biden’s stunning unselfconscious racism. The institutionalization of fear and folly seems increasingly entrenched, increasingly stifling.
All the more poignant, then, was my flash of recognition yesterday when the Gospel Mission class screened a television documentary that reminded me how wrong Joe Biden was: Barack Obama (whatever his gifts and charms) was not “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and. . . nice-looking” to run for President.
As I look back on my formative years, I think that if anything ever impressed me with the majesty, the brilliance, the truth of what the United States might stand for, it was the presence of Shirley Chisholm on the political scene. If anything might enkindle my hope for this nation, it would require a stature, an integrity that tapped the deep reservoirs of trusting admiration Shirley Chisholm inspired in me. But I’m not holding my breath.
Continue reading “Nostalgia or Truth?”