America is an idea. Ideas are like clouds. Seen from a distance they make sense; you can describe their shape, their color, their direction. Get closer and things blur. You can’t define the edge—where is cloud and not-cloud? You begin to see the constantly shifting nature of the thing you call “cloud.” Eventually the cloud goes on to become something else entirely and you’re left with a memory, which is again something that shifts even as you examine it.
This political season, as all that came before and all yet to come, each candidate speaks of America as if it were a crystalline object, a brick of precious metal in an oxygen-free vault five miles underground. The idea of America they cling to and espouse may be theirs, it may be what they think their target voters imagine, or it may be some freakish hybrid of both. The candidate fiercely defends this America they’ve created in their mind. Anyone with a different idea of America, which is to say anyone but the candidate, is incorrect. This is an object of scorn or pity on the part of the candidate.
It is of course true that there are some who focus more on the America yet to be. I personally find more value in this than attempting a return to the America that was, or putting down or holding on to the America that is. The past no longer exists, and the present is water slipping through your hands. No one can control the future, but we can make educated guesses and plan accordingly. This requires more effort and insight than simply saying you will be the next [insert party figurehead here]. That figurehead lived in a different time and responded to a different environment. Our history’s greatest value is in showing us what worked and didn’t work, but the variables will rarely repeat. That is not to say we should discard lessons from the past; however, we have to translate them to the present & future to act accordingly. Who is doing that work, and who is listening?
America is a drawing on a map. It’s a collection of documents. It’s some 300 million people, individuals, each with an interior life as full as the next. To pin it down as one sharply drawn thing and then say you will make it another thing is to lie.
So who’s telling the truth?
Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.