Sentences — November 5, 2008, 3:58 pm

Fundamentalism

wyattvotes
Yesterday afternoon, behind the stripes and holding my polling place’s already blunted pencil, I voted in the presidential election. I wrote, in a steady hand, a blue streak of ×’s, marching from south to north up my ballot to leave for last the final and most fundamental box.

I ×’d.

That afternoon, I turned off my phone, wrote until dinner and, with my girlfriend, prepared a meal. We kept the radio off, the phones off, shut down computers, didn’t turn the television on.

We lit a fire.

We ate.

We talked.

We drank champagne.

We made some wishes, taking Noah Webster at his etymological word.


This morning, we got into the car at dawn. It’s a short drive to our general store. On our way in, we passed two men in conversation and tried not to listen to them.

Made for the newspaper rack. Took in a half-dozen front pages.

And began some vigorous morning dancing.


Language has a way of swelling in equal proportion to a mind’s anger or a heart’s joy. Very easily, one can overstate what a moment means. Still, I believe the following is apparent as a result of last night:

Fundamentally, America is not a racist country.

Fundamentally, Americans are a thinking people.

Naturally, I don’t mean “fundamentally” in its literal sense (from fundare, “to found”). America was founded on racist policies and practices. Racism is a reflex; it voids thought. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” our Declaration of Independence says, “that all men are created equal.” Who could think all men are created equal and not grant all men equal treatment?

So I mean “fundamentally” figuratively. I mean that a country with an unthinking racist past has manifestly evolved beyond its beginnings. Such growth has been a product of time but also, necessarily, a product of thought. 63,354,607 voted for a man who, fifty-two years ago, couldn’t win a seat on an Alabama bus. To my mind, of all the things that can be said or oversaid, such a radical, moral change in American life says something genuinely and literally uplifting about our often compromised, often disappointing contemporary culture. It says that a majority of us can think our way clear to a conclusion that can surprise, inspire, and stun.

Share
Single Page

More from Wyatt Mason:

Conversation October 2, 2015, 8:26 am

Permission to Speak Frankly

“By committing to the great emotional extremes demanded by Greek tragedy,” says Bryan Doerries, author of The Theater of War, “the actors are in effect saying to the audience: ‘If you want to match our emotional intensity, that would be fine.’”

From the October 2014 issue

You Are Not Alone Across Time

Using Sophocles to treat PTSD

From the February 2010 issue

The untamed

Joshua Ferris’s restless-novel syndrome

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2016

Psychedelic Trap

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Hamilton Cult

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Held Back

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Division Street

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Innocents

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quiet Car

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Hamilton Cult·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The past is complicated, and explaining it is not just a trick, but a gamble."
Illustration by Jimmy Turrell
Article
Division Street·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Perfectly sane people lose access to housing every day, though the resultant ordeal may undermine some of that sanity, as it might yours and mine."
Photograph © Robert Gumpert
Article
Held Back·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"'We don’t know where the money went!' a woman cried out. 'They looted it! They stole our money!'"
Artwork by Mischelle Moy
Article
The Quiet Car·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.

Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.

Photograph by Joshua Lutz
Article
Innocents·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion."
Photograph © Nadia Shira Cohen

Average amount the company paid each of its 140 top executives last year:

$5,300,000

Between one fifth and one half of England’s leisure horses are obese.

Scientists in the Galápagos Islands credited an endangered giant tortoise named Diego with saving his species by fathering more than 800 offspring.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today