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Rules of the Game

The thing about history is that in retrospect, from tens or hundreds or even thousands of years after the fact, events seems like they happened quickly when in fact they almost never do.

The dinosaurs probably weren’t rendered extinct in one cataclysmic event. More likely there were a series of huge storms over a number of years that became the icy onslaught from which they never recovered.

The mighty empires of yore were neither created nor decimated overnight. But took scores of years to build, and usually several decades to fall.

In this country, for example, the 13 colonies didn’t just jump up one day and say “To Hell with King George.” No, it was a series of upheavals, large and small, righteous and petty that gave some colonists the idea to revolt. And only some. Don’t forget that there were many who remained loyal to England – they either fled to Canada, returned to England or shut up about it and went with the flow.

Or take the Civil War. The economic rivalry between the North and South was only exacerbated by the industrial revolution and slavery – but both coexisted for many years without warfare. Also remember which Europeans largely settled which areas: the Brits did the Northeast and the Scots and other British colonies did the South. There was a built-in culture conflict.

Or consider the women’s suffrage movement, or gay rights, or reproductive rights or workers’ rights or anything else you can think of. Public perception shifted gradually, helped along by devoted advocates, yes; but each of these movements gained and lost momentum over time until supporters reached critical mass and change was wrought.

It’s no coincidence that our last several presidents have been part of this “back and forth”: consider Nixon versus Carter (I don’t count Ford because he was a replacement president). Or Bush I versus Clinton, or Bush II versus Obama. Or Obama versus Trump.

These swings of the political pendulum are moving in one direction. It’s just harder to see when you focus on the swings of the pendulum rather than its arc. And the arc of time will show what many of us instinctively know. We are headed toward a more inclusive, fair and representative country than what has preceded it by 250 years.

The real question is: Can we finally live up to the hype of freedom, democracy and equality for all? Or will the rules be changed in the middle of the game? Will the erstwhile majority refuse to cede power to the coming majority? Will the emptiness of the words of the founding fathers ring just as hollow as they always have --- but this time, for the majority rather than the minority?

Will the promise finally make acquaintance with reality? Or will reality drop the pretense and become like every other failed state in history? Mired in conflict, bloodied in hatred and divided by forces both inside and out.

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