I saw the grainy image the other day of Bobby Kennedy laying on the cold kitchen floor of the Ambassador Hotel in LA, with a young busboy cradling his head. For the thousandth time probably, but it startles me every time, and I sometimes wonder if that's the moment when it all came undone. The American idea as I understand it, I mean. The possibilities of American liberalism.
There are a thousand moments, of course—some nearly as painful, each imbued with its own special significance—but for me, that's probably the one. Liberalism was born from the Jeffersonian ideal, which itself was always a house of cards supported by the faith and manipulation of charismatic believers. Bobby's death left a void that has never been filled, and here we are.
I think, too, of the hypocrite Sandra Day O'Connor. All that pretense of rationality and moderation, then giving the fifth vote to create the majority in Bush v. Gore, in effect giving us the presidency of George W. Bush. And thus, Samuel Alito. Thus Citizens United v. FEC.
Thus ending democracy as we have known it.
This is how America seems to me now. As if, having teetered upon the edge of the Corporatist-Fascist abyss for the past several years, we have begun the descent, and are gathering speed. I fear that real discovery of America that Thomas Wolfe wrote of, and that many of us have anticipated, may have a different face than we believed it would. It is a face that is thousand-faceted, familiar and convenient. It is a face that is old as hell.
Then I think Of Bobby's speech at Capetown, in 1966:
"Give me a place to stand," said Archimedes, "and I will move the world." ...Men (have) moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events, and then the total -- all of these acts -- will be written in the history of this generation.
Thousands of Peace Corps volunteers are making a difference in the isolated villages and the city slums of dozens of countries. Thousands of unknown men and women in Europe resisted the occupation of the Nazis and many died, but all added to the ultimate strength and freedom of their countries. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage such as these that the belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
Yeah, I read that, and I feel ashamed for the brittleness of my faith, for the limits I have imposed upon the reservoir of my hope. I'm just stupid enough to keep believing in what Jefferson called the world's best hope, unteachable enough to still expect our hour to come, perverse enough think history is still on our side.
I still believe in the fucking green light, for God's sake. Will someone kindly slap me across the head?