Usually, social revolutions are not that self-evident in their infancies and often never really get off the ground. But in the spirit of the optimism we’re all supposed to adopt in the holiday season, or at least a suspension of cynicism, it can be posited that evidences of a proto-revolution appeared in 2012 which, if nurtured, sustained and expanded, could move the U.S. to a much better place in coming years.
It is often overlooked that, in a democracy, revolutions don’t take the old form, even like the original American revolution, for example. They don’t have to involve violent overthrows, and actually are not supposed to. They manifest themselves at the ballot box, even though their real source is a growing, collective, popular change of mind and heart.
The ballot box represents an epiphenomenon, so to speak, of a revolution, just as it was in the case of the American war of independence in the 1770s. Then, the massive circulation of such seminal documents as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense pamphlet initiated a wave of enlightened consciousness in the colonies that suddenly, like the proverbial light bulb switching on in thousands of heads, elevated the general public’s disdain to a new level of intolerance of the irrational oppression of the British monarchy.
It wasn’t the “shot” but the process of flashing light bulbs “heard ‘round the world” that set off the American revolution.
One of the critical, indispensable components of the American revolution that made it work was the fact that, as in Paine’s pamphlet, the objective was not merely to throw off the oppressors, but to establish a lawful, representative and working democracy in the wake of such an overthrow. The “democratic enlightenment” figures who, centered in Paris and the “History of Philosophy” project, had for years been shaping the ideas of such a working democracy, which Paine and others incorporated into their philosophies.
Therefore, in the U.S. we’ve inherited the means by which changes in mind and heart can translate into lawful and orderly even radical changes in government and public policies.
This November, this manifested itself in a national election that achieved some remarkable things, that I expect, with the passage of time, will be better appreciated than now.
First, the nation’s first African-American president was not just elected in a flash-mob-like outpouring of reaction against the most deservedly-reviled president in modern history, as Obama was in 2008, but he was re-elected after four years of his difficult leadership faced powerful political enemies in full mobilization to block, obstruct and defeat him, both legislatively and with the biggest anonymous campaign war chest ever arrayed against a presidential re-election campaign.
Second, in that re-election, every single high profile right wing crackpot national public official, especially U.S. senators who revealed radically anti-woman prejudices on issues of rape and abortion, were also defeated.
Third, in a new spirit of generosity and fairness, voters in four U.S. states affirmed what only a few years earlier seemed impossible, granting gay and lesbian persons the right to marry, and generally enjoy the same rights as anyone else.
Now, in the weeks following that vote, yet another school shooting massacre has unleashed that same public sentiment in the greatest uprising against the bullying, irrational demands of the National Rifle Association and its allies seen yet. This is a qualitatively different response from the American public, fueled not just by the horror of the latest crime (there were enough others before this one), but by a change of mind and heart among the people.
This does not appear to be the kind of temporary outrage that the NRA and its ilk have felt in the past they could just wait out before dying down.
It may reflect that the American public has come in the last couple of months to a new place in its consciousness that it will not now relinquish.
The winner of the November election was not Obama so much as it was those who voted for him, and voted to oust the nut cases and embrace fairness and generosity. They don’t lose if Obama backslides as long as they hold firm to their new sense of what’s reasonable and fair.