Tonight, Democrats nestle all snug in their beds, while visions of a new America dance in their heads. But America isn’t the dream. It’s the home we’re all sleeping in tonight, and for the next four years.
In the Democratic dream, America has reelected the leader who promises to transcend politics and who has insisted that he will stand up for the people, rather than the special interests. Over the next four years, Democrats believe they can peel back the ugly layers of our politics caused by money-driven campaigning, religion gone wrong, and plain old cynicism. Underneath all this is the confidence that a united America lies beneath corrupted politics – one which respects the real interests of all her people, where the divisions caused by ignorance and greed give way to e pluribus unum. Uncorrupted by false voices, democracy will rise anew, purified and progressive.
Republicans have a dream, too. A man inspired by European social democracy, postcolonial Marxism, or Islam has somehow captured the hearts of the disconnected Americans – the Hollywood elites, immigrants, and secularists in our midst. But, though it will be much harder to see over the next four years, Republicans believe as much as Democrats that there is a real America hiding somewhere behind our politics. They believe in an America which still follows the Judeo-Christian values of our forefathers and fears God, honors marriage, and believes in the virtues of capitalism. An America that hasn’t fallen to the demands of atheism and multiculturalism.
The dreams of Democrats and Republicans, anyway, come from the belief that America is ultimately an idea. Of course it has ideas, experiences, and popular visions. But America is a country, not an idea. It is a home. A place where people have come for countless reasons, with countless ideas. We are a land of gays and gods and guns, of comedy clubs and megachurches, of Mormon Mitt and biracial Barack.
Neither dream is big enough for that. Democrats honestly believe that there is an American consensus that yearns to progress but is being held back by the antics of the self-interested rich and the undue zeal of the theocratic elements within the churches. Truth is, the pro-life movement and the Tea Party have earned the allegiance of tens of millions of their fellow citizens who, having thought things through as best they can, honestly believe that life begins at conception and that government spending is endangering ordinary Americans.
Republicans honestly believe that there once was an America where it was just understood that people speak English, believe in the literal truth of the Book of Genesis, and support capitalism. Truth is, as many people immigrated a hundred years ago when our population was a third its current size as do now. Our third president wrote a version of the Bible cutting out all the parts about Jesus being God. And earlier generations of Americans fought far more bitterly about capital and labor than Scott Walker and public-sector unions ever could.
It’s tempting to believe that if everyone just came to their senses, either through a politics untainted by money or a culture which mirrored the American founding, we would all see things the same way. But America isn’t an idea, a dream, a projection of the mind. It’s a place where Rick Warren and the Koch Brothers, Jeremiah Wright and Michael Moore all belong, and no electoral margin can ever change that. Why?
Because America is our home.