With a venal cabal undermining governance at every turn in America, even the modest quest to be good and decent as a nation is on hold.
Changing times can be hard times, particularly for those without much of a moral compass to guide them. It seems that after millennia of harassment and abuse, women have chosen 2017 to find their voice. Likewise, after decades of declining white privilege, racists found their voice in America in the 2016 presidential election cycle. Who knows what 2018 will bring, but I am betting on hypocrites having a big year.
Neither sexual harassment nor racism is a new phenomenon in America. No one should have needed to wait for sleazy pied pipers of masculinity to be forced above the muck to know that patting women on the ass, exposing oneself without invitation, and using power and prestige to intimidate and silence was happening all the time and has always been wrong.
Likewise, racism in America has been so wrong for so long, yet somewhere around 30% of Americans seem to think it is right. Maybe it has taken the ascendance of a racist and self-admitted sexual predator to the presidency to force all of us to look again in the mirror and try to square who we think we are with who we really are. What better slogan could lead the way than “Make America Great Again,” as long as you don’t dwell for long on the words “great” and “again”?
On the frontlines of an emerging willingness to confront sexual harassment and assault, there remains a great deal of room for discourse about limits and liabilities. While I am not convinced that every professional or workplace encounter with someone of the opposite sex will require a chaperone, it sure feels that way. And this doesn’t even get to development of a sensitive play card for personal relationships at the heart of much of what makes each of us feel loved and loving.
It is also hard for me to believe that every woman has been harassed and/or assaulted on their road to maturity and accomplishment. We seem to be at a #OfCourseMeToo crossroads, where no woman seems presently empowered to say that she was never harassed or assaulted and has in fact enjoyed the support of both men and woman on her journey to greatness. I suspect that the latter is more the norm than not, but that right now is probably the time for aggrieved women to be heard and those without significant grievance to stand silent.
But if this overdue moment is going to become a movement, “Not Me” women and the men who have respected them will have to be heard from. It will not be enough for angry women to dig in alone. Nor do I believe that there can be a profound cultural shift without both women and men being a part of the discussion.
Those seeking to champion a lasting movement should look long and hard at the journey of the civil rights movement to this year and last. In the last couple of years, the American racist playbook has been given new vitality since Trump and his acolytes shoved their way into the political arena. The lesson here is that even an enduring movement that has resulted in some meaningful societal progress needs recurring positive energy. It has proven impossible to bury forever the prejudice and ignorance that empower our society’s cultural losers.
Over a half a century has passed since Martin Luther King Jr. cast a spell with his visionary “dream,” yet the nation still has to be confronted by the reality of a desperate message that black lives actually matter. After over 50 years of a movement, young black voices are still needed to awaken us to the reality of racism in our midst.
Many among us are ashamed. The rest of us should be. For now, a new moment seeks to become a movement and an aging movement seeks to press forward with a new message that will bring reality closer to the dream. Both developments will continue to generate pushback. For me, both engender a sickening sense that sexual harassment will continue to cloud the lives of young woman and that young black men will continue to die on the frontlines of their drive for simple recognition as a part of our common humanity.
There is a possibility that some Americans are experiencing the beginnings of a new national awakening — a realization that to be great “again” you have to have been great before. In this context, Trump’s crude xenophobic rhetoric has done much to expose America’s uncomfortable past and even more to highlight present national shortcomings.
The True Test of a Nation
I have long believed that the true test of any nation’s collective character is the extent to which a nation uses its available resources to meet its internal human needs and its international human and environmental obligations. America has never achieved either racial or gender equality, nor equitably divided the riches produced by its natural and human resources. Income inequality continues to worsen after the mirage of egalitarianism spawned by 20th century wars. Millions are without the sufficient food, housing and education necessary to thrive, and the access to meaningful health care needed to survive.
At present, with a venal cabal undermining governance at every turn in America, even the modest quest to be good and decent as a nation is on hold. A growing sense of despair pervades large swaths of the American public, and real world leaders will have to build new bridges of hope without American input.
I am not at all sure how or when this fetid tide will change, but it will. America will then rejoin the quest for the humane outcomes that define a nation’s worth. In short, America has to prove it can be good before it can ever hope to be great.
*[A version of this article was also featured on Larry Beck’s blog, Hard Left Turn.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.