Regression is now less the shameful refuge of the contemporary babyman than a foolproof political technique. Nostalgia has always been at the core of any pitch to the American people, even though our country has so much less spent time for which to yearn. I don’t think any of the haircuts in the current election cycle really believe the America they’re selling ever existed: a time when the streets were safe, jobs grew on trees, and Mad Men was good. And I don’t begrudge any politician an appeal to nostalgia. The present is too close and the future unknowable. The past is what we have.
But indulging in nostalgia while functioning in the present requires a keen sense for what it elides. I’m shocked by the recent amnesia that’s seized public discourse in the past few years. The Help wins Academy Awards like it featured a radical thesis about civil rights. Women get compared to livestock on the floor of the Georgia House. Rick Santorum nearly calls the president (of the United States!) a vile racial slur that I would love to see him try to say to his face. Why are we recapitulating 40-year-old (and older) debates in the innermost spheres of our government? Is an election cycle a good excuse to challenge the most basic rights of women, minorities, and homosexuals every four years?
I’m so tired of this. Most people I speak to are absolutely beaten down by a political-media complex that starts spinning up too far in advance of the election and brings every soundbite and bit of political minutiae into its orbit. I would be exhausted and scared if I thought any of the bleak company of Republican candidates had a real shot, but I’m reasonably sure they don’t. I think Santorum is nostalgic for a time when he only had to interact with white people, Ron Paul is a malignant little free-market elf, and I can only imagine Mitt and Ann Romney have a weird sex game in which she gets aroused watching him embarrass himself on TV.
But of most immediate concern to myself is the way it makes me feel. I was at dinner listening to a conservation about politics when a thought distinguished itself from the others: the culture war is real. I used to think it was something fabricated by pundits to feed an insatiable news cycle but I feel it now. I feel polarized. I know my position on Occupy Wall Street, abortion, corporate subsidies etc. etc. before I know any of the details of an individual case. I know what I feel when I watch Fox News: rage, but also, pleasure. That I’m so much smarter and more progressive than any of them. I am no better. I dream of conciliation. I’m nostalgic for a time that never existed when my relationship to half of my country wasn’t one of shame, arrogance, and frustration.