Following Romney’s strong performance at the first presidential debate, we found ourselves wondering why the candidate did not deliver a more stirring speech to the Republican National Convention. The logical next step was to ask: what would happen if we gave his original text to several contemporary writers for a rewrite. The following is an approximation. —A.A.
Four years ago, I know that many Americans felt a fresh excitement about the possibilities of a new president. That president was not the choice of our party, but Americans always come together after elections. We are a good and generous people who are united by so much more than what divides us.
When that hard-fought election was over, when the yard signs came down and the television commercials finally came off the air, Americans were eager to go back to work, to live our lives the way Americans always have—optimistic and positive and confident in the future.
That very optimism is uniquely American.
It is what brought us to America. We are a nation of immigrants. We are the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the ones who wanted a better life, the driven ones, the ones who woke up at night hearing that voice telling them that life in that place called America could be better.
Four years ago before our last presidential election, Americans feeling fresh excitement about a new president, after late summer, before the leaves fell off the trees. It flew quickly from fall to winter like there had been no equinox to begin with. The president was not our party’s choice, is not our party’s choice. But Americans, always coming together after elections, being a generous people, with the qualities of a good people, able to be united by so much more than what is dividing.
When that hard, fought election was over, the yard signs came down, the television commercials, once spreading through the channels, radiating through the red-green-blue spectrum like a masked dance of animated journalism, came off the air. Americans eager to get back to work. Eager to live their lives, like Americans. With an iridescent optimism for the future.
That optimism is unique, American.
America appealed to us for this reason. America is a nation of immigrants. Americans are the children grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, of those who wanted a better life. This life they heard of through the small whispers and rumors of the night, lies and truths, spoke of a better land. America.
Four years ago many Americans felt a brief but noticeable wave of excitement, because a new president had been elected. He wasn’t our party’s president—Barack and Joe had been chosen under an opposing set of political beliefs—but Americans were not the kind of people not to come together after an election. After all, they had been known for their generosity, basically because they were always ready to be united in order to put aside their differences. They could be a grave and petty people with the unsettling habit of making enemies among themselves, as though at any minute they would be ready to split down the Mason-Dixon again. But one could make a game of waiting to see how soon after an election Americans would come together again.
Because soon enough it became winter, the election ended. The way a high school basketball coach finally promoted to college ball wants to forget all his time spent in public programs—get over the adolescent hormones and endless pranks he was made to put up with, move to a big town, change apartments, and turn over a new leaf—the campaign signs came down and the television commercials stopped airing. The election became a shameful secret of the past. The candidates had spent nearly a year spreading their name across the country and now wanted to put it all behind them. One could imagine that they wanted to get back to work, to get on with their lives and move into post-defeat private offices in slightly rundown areas—or in one case, into the White House—but the sense of optimism with which they intended to move on didn’t need to be imagined because any American was already very familiar with it.
In the end that optimism is basically very American.
In the neighborhood where I grew up, outside of Bloomfield Hills, others used to talk about how America had lost its courage and drink Pabst, until one day an old employee at the Texaco station came out from the shop and told us all something we would remember long after he stopped talking. “That’s why we came to America to begin with.” In the days following this outburst, which were particularly memorable and equally shameful, it became clear that America belonged not to politicians or lawmakers, but to immigrants. Soon enough, it started to feel like without the immigrants or the foreigners, some just arriving and others already accustomed to the country’s manner, America would have been as empty as the Texaco oil drums, and the shops along the road after closing, and even as hollow as that green lady herself, standing innocently just a few miles off the tip of Manhattan
In or around the year 2008 the American people were greeted by an unbearable wave of excitement, because before our party could do anything, another candidate had gotten himself elected president. “Will the people still come together,” my son asked me, because not one howl of celebration was made among us. I felt a fart coming on so I spoke quickly. “Yes, the American people will come together. They will always come together because they are a strong and generous people,” I said. “That sounds true enough,” said my son, the Sesame Street–obsessed adolescent.
As the hard-fought election came to an end, after the candidates had been worn down by the blitzkrieg of debates and firing squads of news reporters—nobody ever has pity for the politicians—suddenly the days seemed quite grim. Or perhaps it was simply the shift of season that made us change: took away our political banners, shook the pickets from the lawn, cleared the phone lines of automatic broadcasts, rinsed the airwaves, cleansed the television of its commercials, and violently stripped us of the convictions we knew were redundant but wished to have anyway. Americans wanted to return to work, and to live their lives. “What is missing from America,” they asked. I had a notion. “Optimism,” I said.
Since the beginning of time, America has known one truth: it is optimism that brought us here, optimism that made immigrants come, optimism that made America the home of the world, optimism that made travelers and refugees think, when times were darkest and most unlivable, that perhaps looking into the void would lead them to a better land and to a better life in America.
Alexander Aciman, a graduate of the University of Chicago, is the author of Twitterature. Recently, he has contributed to Condé Nast Traveler and Tablet Magazine.