OUR nation was founded on a bedrock principle that we are all created equal. The project of each generation is to bridge the meaning of those founding words with the realities of changing times... Progress on this journey often comes in small increments. Sometimes two steps forward, one step back, compelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens. And then sometimes there are days like this, when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt. — President Barack Obama
I'VE WORKED in journalism a quarter century, been alive twice that long. Traveled all over, raised children, married, divorced. Whole nine yards.
Covered a lot of interesting stories in between, interviewed a lot of interesting people. Seen some crazy stuff.
Never have I seen a week like last week.
Just as an earthquake suddenly releases eons-old tension beneath the surface within the space of a few seconds, several long-roiling American issues came to a head within days—sometimes hours—of each other.
The beginning of the week saw the nation dealing with the aftermath of the murder of the Emanuel Nine in Charleston.
Though far from the first such mass shooting—and nowhere near the one with the highest body count—something about the particularly evil motive of the killer struck a deep and profound chord of unrest.
Coming after a year of headlines involving tension and inequity between African-Americans and the justice system, the murder of nine worshippers at a historically black church seemed an all-too vividly horrifying climax, one demanding instant action from a nation which had become otherwise obliviously apathetic about mass shootings.
And then.... the President said the word “nigger” in a radio interview.
In an ordinary week, that might be the biggest news story in the world. Do you even remember it now?
Of course, he said it in the context of bringing attention to the larger picture of racism. But it was also a display of the genius-level trolling Obama has become so adept at, sending the media into a predictable frenzy:
Do you bleep the President of the United States? Do you violate protocol against writing or broadcasting the “n-word,” since the president himself said it over public airwaves? Another gut-check moment of truth.
Then, before the first funeral in Charleston was even held, these very serious issues were almost completely consumed by an increasingly surreal vortex of debate over... the Confederate flag.
As formerly staunch Neo-Confederate Tea Partiers climbed all over themselves issuing statements decrying the rebel flag they revered as recently as the week before, you could literally watch the debate shape-shift in real time on social media.
The issue morphed from a perfectly reasonable and long-overdue discussion of why that divisively racist symbol needs to be immediately removed from the public sphere and ostracized by decent society—certainly true—into what I can only describe as a form of mass hysteria, in which literally the only thing anyone talked about was That. Stupid. Flag.
Ordinarily reflective and sober-minded people one-upped each other with more and more fanciful calls to blow up, dismantle or rename flags, symbols, history books, statues, Army bases, and monuments from one end of the country to the other, ISIS-style.
The Confederacy hasn’t gotten this much attention since the premiere of Gone With The Wind. But just as the flag debate began to jump the shark, seemingly hours after it started—rename the Washington Monument? Really? —something else popped up.
Oh yeah, the big Obamacare decision. That.
In the last major court challenge to the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the health care subsidies which underpin the legislation.
And just like that... American politics, for nearly a decade revolving around the intensely charged and often-cartoonish debate over Obamacare, changed course in a single heartbeat.
As Obama himself said in his brilliant remarks following the verdict—please go to whitehouse.gov and watch the video if you haven’t seen it already—“This is health care in America.”
Period. No more “death panel” foolishness. No more dog-and-pony-show nonbinding votes to repeal it in Congress.
Much more importantly, 13 million Americans won’t have to suddenly find themselves without health care coverage and no other options. Tens of thousands of lives will be saved directly by that one court decision. Talk about a reason to celebrate.
The Supreme Court approved gay marriage in all 50 states.
Cue the Biggest Party Ever.
After many lifetimes of petty, bigoted, and clearly un-Constitutional deprivation of the rights of LGBT citizens, a majority of justices said what even a majority of Republicans agreed on long ago: Same-sex couples should enjoy the same marriage rights under federal law as anyone else.
After years of hard-won, frustrating incremental gains—anyone remember Massachusetts was the first state to recognize gay marriage, in 2004?—the debate was settled for good one Friday morning in June.
I’ve never seen such a widespread, spontaneous and genuine outpouring of joy, relief, and celebration from so many people as I saw that day, and the weekend to follow.
Frankly, it might be the most deeply felt expression of national unity seen since 9/11, if I may be so bold.
(Obama’s election was a unifying event in that even the opposition recognized the significance of electing the first black president; we saw how long the fuzzy feelings lasted.)
Indeed, because of the remarkable, virtually unanimous level of LGBT support among Millennials—most too young to really remember Sept. 11, 2001—last Friday could be the watershed American moment of their entire lives.
But amid the party, let’s not be naïve.
As I write this, Ted Cruz says he’ll make opposition to gay marriage the centerpiece of his presidential campaign.
Since the Charleston murders, several black churches have fallen victim to arson.
Totally lost in last week’s hubbub was Obama’s signing of the odious Trans-Pacific Partnership, laying the groundwork for multinational corporations to overturn U.S. law.
Wealth disparity in this country has never been higher. Greece and the European Union are locked in a mutual death spiral.
The world’s still on fire. California’s still out of water.
Last week changed everything. And it changed nothing.
But one thing I’ve learned is, take it one story at a time. And always, always celebrate while you can, because you never know what the next week will bring.