In her new movie “Fantastic Beasts And Where to Find Them,” J.K. Rowling tells us that the place to find them is America.
In America, we have politicians who are afraid that the vote of the people may go against them, so they are defiantly plotting to challenge the verdict of the ballot box by means of impeachment. We have a supposedly apolitical Federal Bureau of Investigation that has gone full Anthony Weiner on us, exposing itself to the world as a cesspool of political intrigue and leaks. In a remarkable breach of election-season ethics, the agency has taken to releasing haints and boogers that frighten yet so far have no substance, evaporating at every attempt to grasp them.
In 2016 America, we have Republican senators who had previously masqueraded as vaunted defenders of the Constitution, but who now promise to deny a newly chosen president her constitutional authority to fill Supreme Court vacancies. As recently as six months ago, such a notion would have been an unthinkable breach of political norms. No longer, not in this era when the once inconceivable has become commonplace.
In this America, racial tensions are rising, as are global temperatures, and we seem helpless against both. Facts and reality have become mutable, reconfigured at will into unrecognizable but dangerous fantasies, and mutterings of armed revolt can be heard across the land. Most alarming of all, the polls tell us that a orange-haired reality TV star with a strange affection for fascist dictators and a profound disrespect for basic governance, a man whose attention span is somehow shorter than his fingers, now has a puncher’s chance of joining George Washington and Abraham Lincoln on the honor roll of American presidents.
Finally, if all that doesn’t convince you that something basic has changed in this country, primetime NFL ratings are down 20 percent from a year ago, and tonight the Chicago Cubs could win their first World Series since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were gunned down in Bolivia.
Strange times, my friends.
Now, I probably know what you’re thinking, because I’ve sought refuge there myself on occasion: “At least Election Day is less than a week away, and then this craziness will all be over.” Sorry, it won’t be over. No matter its outcome, the election will settle nothing and resolve nothing. It will merely rearrange the chessboard, putting new pieces in new places, and then the battle will resume with perhaps increased ferocity.
Because if you haven’t guessed by now, we live in historic times, in “times that try men’s souls,” as Thomas Paine wrote in the fabled year of 1776. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman,” Paine wrote back then, and it remains true today.
Basically, through this painful struggle, we are fighting to reinterpret who we are as a nation and as a people in an era of disconcerting change. And while it may feel unprecedented to those of us living through it, the truth is that the nation has experienced similar periods of convulsion several times in its history and emerged if not unscathed at least renewed. In this case, I’m pretty sure about the conclusion that we’ll eventually reach, in part because history tells us that going backward is never a viable option, and in part because I still have faith that when the fever breaks, we’ll remember who we are.
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies,” Abraham Lincoln reminds us. “Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
That’s right, angels. You have to believe in angels. Seriously.