I was having some trouble focusing on my AP Economics homework on Tuesday night. Something on the desktop of my computer kept catching my eye. A four year old had gotten angry and dragged her ruby-red crayon all over my screen. At least, that’s what the map on my MacBook Pro looked like: a fresh coat of crimson Crayola. And, as four year olds are known to do, she had colored outside of the lines. It’s messy, it’s uncalled for, and I’m feeling a complex combination of overwhelming emotions.
I can’t vote; I’m only sixteen. But the things that bother every other bleeding-heart liberal in America are the same things that bother me. Sure, I spend my time writing on my friends’ Facebook walls and suffering through my cross-country meets, but I’m not completely caught up in the present. Like other high schoolers, I’m anxious about the future. After Tuesday night, I’m particularly anxious.
I’m angry that Republicans have retaken the House. I’m worried about paying for college — worried that my education won’t be a priority to the new House. I’m worried that the poor will be left to fend for themselves, that special-interest groups will determine the fate of our economy, that Congress will decide to regulate who can love whom, and that energy reform will manifest itself in the form of tax breaks for pollution-prone companies. I’m baffled by such an abrupt shift in popular ideology and loss of faith in new policies that haven’t yet had the chance to prove or disprove themselves. I’m concerned that my new speaker, John Boehner, is getting a little too much sun.
I’m terrified. I’m on the edge of my seat. I’m bellowing vitriolic insults at a Sony flatscreen television. But in the face of such severe inner ire, there’s something that I must concede.
If there’s one thing that I learned on Tuesday night — regardless of the magnitude of my outrage — it’s that we live in an incredible country, the likes of which the world has rarely seen. The “city on a hill” phenomenon — the idea of American exceptionalism in its traditional context — is not what I’m pointing to. I’m not saying that economically or socially, culturally or educationally, commercially or religiously, America is any more “exceptional” than the next country. What’s incredible, however, is that the same ethos of cyclical change that ushered in the would-be era of liberal influence in 2008, has become its roadblock. And that, even an angry liberal must admit, is exceptional.
There are countries in this world that have held the same leaders (or whose leaders have held them) for decades — even for generations. A steady capacity for change, in all its ambiguity and disappointing two-sidedness, is a remarkable achievement.
Taking a good hard look at the shifts in influence from the beginning of the Clinton era to the dawn of the Gingrich era to the beginning of the Bush era to the dawn of the Pelosi era to the beginning of the Obama era to the dawn of what may prove to be the Boehener era, one realizes what American freedom really means.
What kind of world am I inheriting? Is it justifiable for a disheartened sixteen year old give up on the kind of country he hopes to have? The answer — in all its current adversity — is a resounding no.
There’s been no violence, there’s been no bloodshed; and in an undisputed, clear-cut manner, the tables have very dramatically turned. The elasticity of the potential for power to shift in the United States is a present-day embodiment of Constitutional freedom and proof that Lincoln’s government “of the people, by the people, for the people” has not perished from the earth.
“Frustrated” doesn’t begin to describe it. Even at sixteen, I’m worried about the economy, just as I’m anxious about the well-being of the environment. I’m worried about the future of welfare and Social Security. I’m worried about racial profiling. I’m worried about a second subprime mortgage crisis.
But as the sun sets on the horizon of one era and that same sun rises into the sky of the next, there’s one thing, paramount above all else, that I can coherently verbalize. One thing that gives this determined high school junior a gargantuan hope. Three simple words that encapsulate all emotions: God bless America.