(The Nation) -- The last eight years have been an era of what I had thought future generations might look back on as an important political correction. For all that didn’t happen in retrospect, the era began with redemptive energy: There was hope, there was change, there was a rousing sense of public spirit and faith in public institutions. It had been a long slog under Bush the younger’s tenure, dominated as it was by the angry glare of Dick Cheney and the oddly cheerful grin of Donald Rumsfeld. But the election of 2008 changed all that. The new president, Barack Hussein Obama, was well-educated, well-spoken, congenial, and scandal-free; his wife was funny and whip-smart, his children beautiful and well-behaved. Their extended families were both racially diverse and ethnically inclusive. To so many, Obama’s presidency represented living proof of a newly forged “we”—an all-American identity that might now include African Americans at the highest levels of power. It was supposed to be the capstone to our national identity, the confirmation of our national mantra: With hard work and a good head, anyone can grow up to become president of these United States.
It was much too giddy a moment, of course. A kind of magical thinking overtook some, with ebullient declarations that we had achieved not only a historic milestone but had somehow been instantly transported to a “post-racial” nirvana. That giddiness tended to obscure or underestimate the deep resentments of another newly forged American identity—not merely angry conservatives or a dispossessed white working class, but the coordination of those who felt they were living under a state of siege, and who made race, gender, and ethnicity the scapegoats of their dispossession: radicalized elements within the Tea Party and a revitalized network of “alt-right” organizations.