Are we there yet? The last three election cycles, we've been told, are "the most important in our lifetime." The cry Most Important Election! is sounding a little like the cry Wolf!, and there's the danger. Because the cry of Wolf! is occasionally true.
Since last summer's rowdy town halls and rallies, political elites have tried to dismiss the alarms as a flash in the pan, a temper tantrum, an "Astroturf" phenomenon that will quickly burn out. The great Tea Party talkdown doesn't seem to have worked, though. The chattering classes might consider another possibility: It's real. The bitterest of bitter pills might be sticking in their throats, just when it seemed their progressive dream was about to come true.
Much was made of the September Town Hall meeting where Velma Hart, a respectable, civil, middle-class matron expressed her admiration for the president and asked when he was going to do something. Though swathed in language maddeningly obtuse ("Is this my new reality?"), one might hear echoes of another question asked a couple of millennia ago by another frustrated follower: "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" (Matthew 11:3).
The leftward political wave seems to have frozen in mid-crest. It looks a bit silly up there, hanging loose while its pretensions and supporters drip away. But other tides are rising. As government saps initiative, the internet enables initiative. Thousand-page laws engender thousand-website responses. Media giants fall, skepticism rises. Assumptions once common are coming in to question: Are public workers really about serving the public? Are teachers unions really about education? Is a government program really the best way to buy a car, finance a mortgage, get a job?
What's going on?
"Have you noticed," asks a character in C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength, "that the universe, and every little bit of the universe, is always hardening and narrowing and coming to a point? . . . If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family-anything you like-at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren't quite so sharp; and there's going to be a time after when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing."
Looking back over the last 40 years or so, the fortunes of the United States appear as a tug of war between exceptionalists and globalists, conservatives and liberals, rule of law and rule of men. But as our differences harden and come to a point, the metaphor changes. That line we used to pull each other across in regular power swaps is beginning to resemble the line between solid ground and empty air. There's a precipice up ahead, a decisive tipping point. It's an economic tipping point, but more than that; money has a way of forcing issues that are actually philosophical and spiritual. There's no more time to argue; our differences can no longer be penetrated with argument. There's no more back and forth; both sides are headed for the cliff as fast as they can run.
Who will get there first? If the "right" side wins this race, will they be able to turn the tide? Nine years ago, the World Trade Center collapsed in a pile of rubble. Is that (and the dispiriting wrangle about building a mosque nearby) our future, our "new reality"? Or might we rise again, revival-fired, clear-headed, stronger than before?
Scary. But exhilarating. Christians are always running a race; we should be in good form. If not, get there. Wrestle in prayer, work out your salvation. There's no "new reality" for us; we are partakers of the only reality. Everything else is passing scenery, but it's the scenery wherein we harden and narrow and come to a shining point.
Email Janie B. Cheaney