History had an arrow. When I was younger, it had an arrow, a direction. It pointed toward inclusion, and social equality, and justice.
Human achievement had an arrow. It pointed toward knowledge, and science, and understanding.
And in the long run, when you back up far enough, I suppose it still does.
But for the life of me it has felt like we lost our way. For the past 30 years, there has been a reactionary force in this country (can we stop calling it "conservative", please?) trying to hold back the floodwaters of change.
"America is a Christian Nation. It is and should always be ruled by white people, white Christian people, rich white Christian people." That's the toxic stew that got us a conservative media establishment, and a conservative religious establishment, and a conservative intellectual and science establishment, all meant to provide a construct to put in place of reality. It reached an apogee, a place where it's distance from reality was greatest, under Bush, when they mocked us who lived in the "reality-based" world.
"What harm does a good fantasy do?" you might ask. Well, it allows a nation to be misled into two wars. And it allows us to pass tax cuts that will "pay for themselves." And it allows us to ignore the realities of climate change.
And the reactionaries held back the floodwaters until the reality of the economy came crashing over the walls and washed away, well, some of the illusion. So the Romney campaign had no choice but to construct its own reality of a country where women would tolerate obscene policies on reproductive freedom, and Latinos would ignore repressive immigration policies, and everyone would ignore economic policies that simply didn't add up.
But this time the demographic floodwaters washed away the absurdity of "unskewing" polling numbers, and left a political establishment scratching its head. If this was France in 1789, the GOP leadership would be headed to the guillotine - that is the scale of this defeat.
But there are real floodwaters. Real ones, that swept away homes and lives and threaten us all. And the arc of human history had better hurry because we're out of time on global warming. And there are metaphical floodwaters that continue to threaten us. Our economy continues to underperform and Serious People are debating deficit cuts that will only make unemployment worse. Our education system is failing. Our infrastructure is literally crumbling. Our electrical grid is antiquated. And our health system, it's not a system, and it's not healthy.
We need to let the floodwaters of history wash away the detritus of failed thinking. We need to cleanse our system of every vestige of reactionary thinking. It's time to re-elevate a data-driven, fact-based polity.
This election was a watershed. America is ready to resume its march toward justice, toward fairness, and toward rational politics. But if we don't engage this question directly, if we don't demand, above all, that this debate be conducted rationally, we will fail. And these arguments will continue to surface and mislead us.
What we need is a second Enlightenment, as far-reaching as the original one. There is real action needed here. People need to be discredited. They need to be made to acknowledge their failed policies and predictions, and to remove themselves from the public stage. Schools of thought need to be abandoned because their data is falsified and their conclusions baseless. We who live in the reality-based world need to fight back now.
There is no time to lose. The grip of the alternate reality must end. Or we will all face floodwaters, real or metaphorical, and we won't be ready.