Post-election: the view from the wilderness

Deirdre's morning-after-the-election blog post had a line early on that really struck me: she mentions the "sheer disbelief that so many people have a worldview that is so radically different from my own."

I don't think Deirdre is ignorant, or stupid, or insular - quite the opposite of any of that. But her perspective is enlightening. She grew up largely in the Clinton era. The first presidential election she voted in was Bush-Kerry in 2004. America was deeply polarized already, and the poles weren't speaking to each other. Occasionally, they shouted across the canyon at each other, but nobody was listening on the other side. Over the early 2000s and into Bush 43's second term, the polarization got worse.

After spending years in an environment where no one with a differing viewpoint was ready to hand, and where whatever disagreements did occur were little more than garbled gobbledygook being shouted across a canyon, little wonder that Deirdre and others - of all ages - came to believe the country they lived in was quite homogeneous, at least in terms of political and social viewpoints.

I contrast this with my own experience, not because it is so unique or interesting but because I know it best. I grew up in the Reagan era - my second-grade class sent get-well cards to the president after the 1981 attempt on his life. The first presidential election I voted in was Bush-Clinton in 1992. I was long used to disagreeing with those in power, and frankly had few expectations that they would ever represent my wishes, hopes, and desires.

I expected to live in the wilderness - I knew nothing else. I would submit that Deirdre, through no fault of her own, knew plenty else than the wilderness, and found the exile during Bush 43's first term quite painful. I found it no less painful, but was more easily resigned to my fate.

Kerry came along, and the divide was deepened, and I didn't much care. Bush 43 continued along, just like I always assumed. My interests, my values, my wishes were not part of the national dialogue - I had to come to terms with being a philosophical/political minority.

Obama appeared, and for the first time I saw a way out of the wilderness, a light through the trees suggesting to me there might be something more than just the wilderness. But to Deirdre, I think, that light through the trees represented not an arrival of something new, but an opportunity to return from exile, to regain lost territory.

While I reveled in the wonder of Obama's win, I found Deirdre and others like her to be truly overjoyed in a way I was not. I now recognize their emotion as the joy of homecoming, while my feeling was the amazement of a new discovery.

And today we both find ourselves back in the wilderness - with a lot of company, as we have always had. (I never felt alone in the wilderness; neglected, ignored, cast aside yes - alone, never.) And I find that the shock and pain of a renewed feeling of exile for Deirdre is again deeper, more powerful, more profound than my feelings at being back on what is after all for me familiar ground. Much as I enjoyed my time away from the wilderness, I find that I never actually thought I was out for good. And we are not. But Deirdre is again deprived of a home, and I have merely returned to a familiar unpleasantness.

Our hearts break, but in very different ways. 

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