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Urban Renewal in the City on the Hill

Exhaustion is a theme that runs through much of my writing. If all politics is local, then all social upheaval is personal, and it’s exhausting. The terrible and wonderful thing about being on the left is that you never get “there.” Lefties like me have to admit that there is no utopia that will not require regular tweaking, no society that will not require the flexibility to change.

To wit, we thought abortion rights were a given in a secular democracy. We thought that somewhere in the oceans of blood from gun violence reasonable regulation would wash up the shore. We thought that our democracy did not countenance enforcing religious traditions on students at a public school. We thought we might have our first women president.

Unlike the left’s model of change, Reagan’s City on a Hill is the avatar for the political right. Build a fascist theocracy that aligns nicely with white nationalism and defend it to the last man. (Women don’t fight in the city on the hill, they bake cookies and wait for their men to come marching home while chanting bible verses.)

For those of us on the left, America is like a man in late middle age, as in My Sun Sets to Rise Again, or one who has seen it all, like Paul in The Road to Damascus. After long years of tribulation, he has to start again, reinvent himself, and he’s tired. He is a narcoleptic adolescent, trying to find his identity, trying to reimagine the future, without falling off to dreamless sleep.

Those of us old enough to remember Johnson’s Great Society and the reshaping of America in the 1960’s, wonder now whether we have made that our City on a Hill. Do we so pine for the way things were that we think moving the clock backward just a little less than the Roberts court will save us? Or will a new generation of leftists and progressives take us in a direction that might be more durable than Haight-Ashbury?

As we approach the mid-term elections, I wonder aloud whether America can evolve its way out of the myriad crises it faces. Peace and love kept the god-king devotees in our democracy at bay for a few decades, but it ultimately failed to win the hearts and minds of enough Americans to make it permanent. Given the profusion of arms, the utter lack of a middle ground, and the growing taste for the use of institutional violence, I hold scant hope for peaceful resolution.

Besides, everyone is tired. Black people are tired. Women are tired. The LGBTQ+ community is tired. Workers are tired. It seems though, at least for the moment, nobody is going to roll over and go back to sleep.

And we all get a little grumpy when we’re tired.


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