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It’s scary out there right now. It’s going to be scary for some time to come. What has been unleashed, what has been revealed, is ugly. It is what makes democracies die.
In the despair, it is easy to lose perspective. I certainly do all the time. But from time to time, I step back and try to remember where we are as a country on the arc of things.
And I see then that this is both a very dark time and, potentially, a very bright time. It's important to hold these truths together.
When I look down at the ground of the present right now, I feel depressed. If I lift my head to the horizon, I see a different picture.
This is not the chaos of the beginning of something. This is the chaos of the end of something.
Because the 40 years of this plutocratic takeover — of the ideology that said if you're torn between doing what's good for money and what's good for people, always do what’s good for money; these stories about lazy workers and welfare queens; and any number of other fraudulent tales that were meant to justify life in the Hamptons — if I allow myself to feel this way on a good day, it all actually feels like it's burning down.
And on matters of race and identity, likewise, the Trump era doesn't have the crackle of a launch. It has been a mourning. A mourning for white power. A mourning for a time when simply to be white and show up was enough. A mourning for an era in which simply to be a man, and not necessarily an especially capable one, could get you ahead of other people. A mourning for a time when you could be the default idea of an American and not have to share your toys.
We must understand that what we've been living through is backlash. Backlash. It's not the engine of history. It is the revolt against the engine of history. Then we might remember — just to pat ourselves on the back for a second — that what we are actually endeavoring to do right now is to become a kind of society that has seldom, if ever, existed in history. Which is become a majority-minority, democratic superpower.
I have a lot of love for my friends in Europe, but actually none of you all have your immigration rates and naturalization rates at a high enough level to get there anytime soon. And you all may never get there.
Look at India and China. I love India. My parents are from India. India is never going to be a nation of immigrants. It's never going to be a country of people from all the world. It can barely get unity with people just from India. China is never going to be a nation of immigrants. No shade. That's just not their history. It's not who they are.
We are falling on our face because we are jumping very high right now. We are trying to do something that does not work in theory.
To be a country of all the world, a country made up of all the countries, a country without a center of identity, without a default idea of what a human being is or looks like, without a shared religious belief, without a shared language that is people's first language at home. And what we're trying to do is awesome. It is literally awesome in the correct sense of that word.
And, therefore, that we are having insurrections on the Mall or four years of an autocratic attempt or racism oozing through the television and social media portals is both terrifying and a completely predictable, inevitable result of people in power exploiting these transitional anxieties for their own pecuniary gain.
And what we have to do is get smarter than those powerful people. Get more organized than them, and understand that there is a different story to tell those who mistakenly went to the Mall and the 12 percent of Americans who actually supported that terrorist attack, and everybody else — a story to tell them about something great we are trying to do. We will actually create a country that's better for every single person. But we have to be willing to tell that story forcefully. We have to be willing to fight those people tooth and nail, and we have to fight to win.
We are living through a revolt against the future. The future will prevail.
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This essay was adapted from my closing remarks in this conversation with Paul O’Brien of Oxfam America and Mary Kay Henry of the Service Employees International Union. You can watch the full video here.