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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.
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 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.
More from Wyatt Mason:
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”