Vertigo: a condition in which one has the feeling of whirling or of having the surroundings whirling about one, so that one tends to lose one’s balance; dizziness” — Webster’s New World College Dictionary
Maybe the wave of vertigo washed over me the evening one of the cable channels ran the caption, “Awaiting Donald Trump’s National Security Address on the USS Iowa.” Or, perhaps my bout with vertigo this season has simply been caused by all the events I try to make sense of in my job as the Nation’s editor. Just think about what we are witnessing in these vertiginous days:
A pope visiting the United States for the first time who talks in radical terms about “an unfettered pursuit of money,” about a climate in crisis and a social debt owed to a global poor being ravaged by poverty and speculative capitalism. “This system is by now intolerable,” he said. “Farm workers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable . . . . The earth itself — our sister, Mother Earth, as Saint Francis would say — also finds it intolerable.” Echoing the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero (whose 1980 assassination at the hands of U.S.-trained-and-supported, right-wing death squads was recognized as a martyrdom by Francis in February), His Holiness describes the excesses of capitalism as the “dung of the devil” and calls for securing for all people the “sacred rights” of life, liberty and land.
A Democratic candidate for president who has launched the first such effort by a democratic socialist since Norman Thomas waged the last of his six campaigns in 1948. This is truly dizzying for longtime Nation readers — we’ve been covering Bernie Sanders for close to 30 years — and to centenarians, who may recall that we endorsed Thomas for president in 1932, before switching to FDR for the next three elections. Sanders is forcing the mainstream media to rethink their coverage of issues formerly — and condescendingly — considered marginal, fringe or fanciful and unrealistic.
A historic agreement with Iran that, after decades of hostility, represents not just an accord with the Islamic republic, but a victory for the peaceful, diplomatic resolution of conflicts. It’s a setback to those who favor military action — or even war — as a first resort, and a victory for those of us who believe in talking, rather than shooting, our way back from the precipice of armed conflict. Might we finally be ushering in a 21st-century America that actually respects its so-called antagonists?
Normalization of relations with Cuba that, more than 40 years after the Missile Crisis, holds out the real possibility for some sanity in U.S.-Cuba relations. Finally, the United States has eschewed reactionary zeal and right-wing fear-mongering to recognize that what’s good for Cubans is also good for Americans.
A Republican electorate so disgusted with the presidential buffet presented to it that it holds Donald Trump in higher regard than Jeb “exclamation point” Bush (and all others in the field). “Implosion” is overused in political context, but that a bully as ill-informed as Trump could sweep the GOP off its feet is at least indicative of a truly rotted and decrepit foundation within the party. Does the party really want its hot-button issue to be, “What’s the next constituency The Donald will offend?”
I could keep going, but it’s still only September, the election is more than a year out, my vertigo has passed, I’m regaining my bearings, and I’m hopeful that we’re spinning in the right direction.
After all, around the world, there is an uprising against austerity and status-quo politics, and it is having a powerful impact in the United States as the 2016 election campaigns heat up. What seemed impossible — the development of new political movements in Greece and Spain, the selection of Jeremy Corbyn to lead the Labour Party in Britain, the growing political potency of the New Democrats in Canada, the radical politics of South America, the rise of new radical movements in South Africa and many other examples — is playing out in real time. The rules are not merely being rewritten elsewhere; they are being rewritten in the United States. What we know for certain is that this is a moment of political upheaval. A movement moment. Yet, where this moment takes the United States is still an open question, especially in the midst of a campaign that has given us both the unexpectedly strong candidacy of Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination and the unsettlingly strong candidacy of Trump for the Republican presidential nomination.
What I hope, and increasingly believe, is that this is a vertiginous moment of political possibility and change for the United States.