Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What has Changed in America

Democrats are unhappy in this election season, and many are gravitating to Bernie Sanders because he promises to do something about the issue that gnaws at them: growing economic inequality. But what about the progressive goals that have been and are being achieved? One way to think about the new left-wing obsession with economics is that progressives have time to focus on inequality again because so much has been won in other battles. President Obama kept gesturing in that direction during his speech:
Our brand of democracy is hard. But I can promise that a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I’ll be right there with you as a citizen — inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that have helped America travel so far. Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born; not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word — voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.

In fact, it’s that spirit that made the progress of these past seven years possible. It’s how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations. It’s how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector; how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops and veterans, and how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.
There's something to ponder, gay marriage listed not as a goal, but as a settled accomplishment.

What is on Obama's mind is not really the state of the economy or the threat of terrorism, but the nature of American identity. Obama chose to throw his final arguments not his enemies in Congress, but at Donald Trump's pledge to make America great again. Matt Yglesias:
as he closes his term in office, Obama is closing the loop on the redefinition of American identity with which he launched his career, identifying himself firmly with the interests and sensibilities of those who believe that today's America — the America of "the Dreamer who stays up late to finish her science project" and "the protester determined to prove that justice matters" and "the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is" — is the greatest version of America that history has ever seen.
I'm not fool enough to think that racism or sexism or homophobia has been defeated in America. But we have a half-black president, hundreds of thousands of married gay couples, and there's a woman running for president who can't get traction on the left because few leftists seem to think that just electing a female president would be a very big deal.

The social change that has been wrought in the western world over the past 75 years is extraordinary, and I think Obama was right to celebrate it.

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