All my life, against whites and blacks, men and women, gays and straights I have always argued that Americans need to be a tribe, a real honest to God tribe, if we are going to move forward, if we mean to survive. Everything that has ever been best about us has adhered to that notion. Every deep failure has been the result of straying from that ideal.
When those planes smacked into New York, murdering not only all those innocent souls but also any notion that we, Americans, were somehow above the world's mundane concerns, they also provided a window for the right person to step through and lead us toward that goal of Tribe. It was a tiny window, maybe only a week long, during which more of us than at any time in history thought of ourselves as a unit, as a tribe. We were united in our grief, united in our disgust, united in our desire to do something, anything, to prove that that ugly moment wouldn't define us for the next few centuries as so man ugly moments had in the past.
George Bush could have, during that window, insured that he would be the single greatest President in history if he'd only spoken to that grief and harnessed it into what it necessarily should have become.
"I feel what you feel," he should have said. "I know what you know. We are in this together."
But he didn't. He failed.
He squandered the moment, that precious tiny moment, on more political maneuvering that led us, ultimately to not only the sorry social/economic state we're in now but also to the bloody morass of the Iraq conflict. He has cost us lives. He has cost us livelihoods. He has cost us centuries of hard won respect not only on the world stage but also our collective belief that the notion underpinning our society- that divergent ethnicity or gender or faith was not a deal breaker, was not even an impediment but an asset. Instead he made us craven. He made us desperate. He made us torturers. He made spying on our neighbors a necessary duty and the "soft bigotry" he claimed to decry an act of patriotism.
But, worse than all those things, worse really than anything, he failed to see us as a nation. He failed to see us as a single people, despite our superficial differences and to remind us of that positive, nurturing, affirming fact in our time of need.
I have hated him for that failure. I have hated him for all the others as well and for the lives he and his cabal have cost us but I have really hated him for killing that moment. A little of our collective future died when he did that, strangled with both hands by him, personally, on international television.
I used to try to make this point to people but, largely, they haven't wanted to hear it. Not since that week, certainly. They need to eat and fill their tanks and, dammit, we aren't a tribe so why didn't I just shut the hell up about it?
Barack Obama is why. Not just the man himself. He's just a politician at the end of the day, but, if even half of what he said is true, both of his plans and the motivation for those plans, I think we may just have a shot at a second chance. You don't get many of those in life. The older I get, the more I know that to be true. Second chances are rare and important second chances are almost unheard of.
I honestly never thought I'd live to see it. Certainly not after that moment passed. I absolutely never thought I'd se a black man, surrounded by tens of thousands of Americans of all stripes (and watched by millions more) make that case not only as a good idea but as the central reason for why he should be the next President.
E PLURIBUS UNUM.
So. The window's open again.
I hope we don't fail.
Maybe I'll live to see that tribe after all.
Causes Geoffrey Thorne Supports
Operation USA, Greenpeace, Doctors Without Borders,