I travelled to India for the first time in 2011. Before I left, in my mind's eye, I saw the lush forests of the Jungle Book, monkeys, and rain. When I arrived in Hyderabad, I was embarrassed to discover that in all my preparation, I had failed to find out that Hyderabad is in the middle of a desert.
After the elections in 2016, I developed a similar feeling. It turns out that the country I have lived in most of my life is not a well functioning machine filled with rational people. It is a jungle, filled with Gothic horror, history, anger and amorality.
Lechery, silver tongues and corrupt officials swing through the branches of the jungle, unseen to the common people. What is embarrassing is that I didn't see it before. I thought progress had turned its back on deceit. When I heard rustling in the branches above me, I didn't look. I assumed progress was on the people's side.
Once, while I lived in Canada, a professor told me that the U.S. Constitution is like a machine, a product of Enlightenment thinking. He said that if a US politician breaks the rules, the gears of the machine start aligning to grind him or her up. The professor claimed that systems like Canada and Britain rely on the idea of leaders as gentlemen. Gentlemen watch out for their friends, and ultimately the ruling class there is above the law. It was his position, not mine. I didn't live in Canada long enough to know.
I always liked the idea of the U.S. Constitution grinding it's enemies up, and proving the power of democracy. The Enlightenment was a long time ago. Nothing lasts forever.
Will the machine break down?
In the end, maybe it doesn't matter one way or the other, it will still be my home. America is home to so many voices that any cowboy trying to wrangle them will struggle. It is filled with the dreams of colonists and slaves, broken promises and shattered ceilings. So, it turns out we aren't so good at progress... But imagination doesn't need progress. Somewhere, Huck and Jim wiggle their toes in the Mississippi, and as the last lines in The Great Gatsby instruct us, "we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."