A Lesson

Ambrosia was full of students yesterday morning. One was on his cellphone bemoaning the onslaught of “crazy lunatics,” presumably referring to Tuesday’s election results. A table of grad students at the back was having a grand old time. One guy had a shaved head and a turtleneck, another was lanky and wore black socks with faded sneakers, and the third was a woman wearing blocky dotcom-denizen glasses and a funky perm. They could have easily been regulars at any cafe in the Mission or the Haight.

They were commiserating about Tuesday, too, of course, and they were uproariously ridiculing the Timothy LaHaye-Jerry Jenkins Left Behind series. The woman didn’t know about the series and asked what it was. She was incredulous that it existed. None of them could identify the authors; all they knew was the series title. The three of them had a good laugh about the rapture and those nutso fundies without knowing the first thing about them or their belief system or why they’re not just an outlandish joke dreamt up by Comedy Central.

It’s one thing to castigate the right for not knowing anything about the people they attack and for operating solely on the basis of stereotype, but the left has got to face up to the fact that they are just as guilty of this offense, if not more so. Not just the left, but the media as well, which consistently underestimated and dismissed the religious right throughout this election cycle (ever since the beginning of last year, with the Janet Jackson garment malfunction episode and the wave of same-sex marriages in San Francisco, both episodes which inflamed the religious right), just as they have in election cycles since 1980.

That is one lesson of this election. For folks who pride themselves on tolerance, diversity of opinion, and open-mindedness, those grad students seemed pretty narrow-gauge when it came to understanding why Tuesday happened and why the beliefs that shaped Tuesday are on the rise, not on the decline, in this country. You underestimate the power and the influence of the right at your peril.

That table of self-satisfied grad students guffawing about Ann Arbor being wiped off the face of the earth in the end times didn’t get that memo. They’d be incredulous, no doubt, to know that the hair salon owner in Springfield, OH or the construction firm owner in Ely, NV who’s read everything LaHaye’s written have more of a finger on the pulse of the nation right now than those grad students do in their solipsistic, moldy academic strongholds with their well-worn copies of Derrida and Foucault.