|Glenn Ligon, "Double America" 2012|
The hostess at Eureka Burger in Claremont, California told us it would be a 90 minute wait, so we trooped back to Ross' dorm, a few blocks away, to watch the Republican presidential debate.
"Do you think there are people who watch this for the discussion of issues?" said Ross. "As opposed to watching it for entertainment, like we do?"
I don't know if "entertainment" is the word I'd use. One of these men could be president, and the choices to from bad (Jeb Bush) to worse (Donald Trump) to please-God-kill-us-now-and-spare-us-the-torture (Ted Cruz).
I suppose seeing them scratch at each other could be entertaining in the sense that horror movies are entertaining.
But those aren't real. And this is real. Or realish, anyway. The only comfort I take is that the world these people are describing bears so little resemblance to the world as it actually is. It's as if there are two Americas, and the Republicans see the one that is all dark disaster—"Crippled America," to use the title of Donald Trump's latest book.
And another America where, over the past seven years, the economy was guided back from ruin, millions of uninsured people have gotten access to health care, terrorists have been largely kept at bay. That's the America I see, one whose greatest peril are those who would save it by ramping up its greatest embarrassments, torture and religious fundamentalism, intolerance and fear. A topsy-turvy world where Guantanamo Bay represents America at her greatest.
Speaking of fear. Saturday afternoon, news of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia reverberated across the world. Just as terror attacks undermined Ben Carson's campaign, reminding voters that we live in a dangerous world, and sleepwalking neurosurgeons murmuring inanities just won't cut it, so the vacancy in the Supreme Court could mobilize Democratic voters swooning over the let's-change-the-world impossibilities of Bernie Sanders to remember that we dwell in the real world where elections have consequences.
Or maybe that's a partisan notion now. Republicans seem eager to negate the idea that elections matter, at least elections where Democrats win. Naif that I am, I actually expected a few days, a few hours, of head-bowed false piety toward the fallen Scalia before the political cat fight began.
A few minutes was more the case. The corpse was barely cold—it took an hour after the news was confirmed— when Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement:
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president."This is in perfect harmony with the GOP view of Obama all along. He is not a person, not an American, not a Christian, but some species of impostor, a fraud steeped in illegitimacy, who should have never been allowed to run, never mind win, whose every act as president is treachery and treason and folly. Obamacare is a failure, not because millions of Americans now found themselves insured. It's a failure because Obama did it, and it must go. Everything he championed is wrong.
The GOP position is not as alarming to me as it might be for those of us grounded in the world of fact. Climate change is real whether Republicans recognize it or not. Eleven million undocumented immigrants are here whether the GOP views them as persons or not. Gays don't make worse spouses or parents than anybody else whether Republicans accept it or not.
And Antonin Scalia died, and must be replaced. Whether Mitch McConnell likes it or not.
These facts will all manifest themselves with or without Republican permission. The extreme weather we've been seeing will worsen, the coasts will erode. The children of those 11 million are citizens, and they will increasingly resent how their parents have been treated, and flex their political muscles. The genie of accepting gay marriage will never go back in the bottle. And Scalia will be replaced.
Maybe not by Obama. The Republicans control Congress, and they can stall and thwart the nomination process, no matter how qualified, preferring a deadlocked Supreme Court to one with another Obama nominee. That would be nothing new. They have shown a taste for paralyzing government when they don't get their way, like petulant children knocking all the snacks to the floor when they are refused another.
But the American people get to watch them in operation. And the American people are not stupid -- well, some of them are not stupid. Somebody elected Ted Cruz to the senate from Texas. Somebody turns out to Donald Trump rallies. But 51 percent of the American people are not stupid.
Such is my fondest hope, anyway. That is not a fact, but a hunch, a prediction. We will find out whether it is a fact or not come Nov. 8.