Recently a reader of my book Home Free: An American Road Trip asked me: “I’d guess traveling around the country during the 2012 election would have been interesting, but do you wish you’d done the same for 2016???? 😀”
It’s an intriguing, pregnant question. On an obvious level, there’s an obvious answer: Heck, yeah. What alert, ambitious reporter would not have wanted to be driving around America during the fall of 2016?
But truly, I’m glad I drove around America when I did and wrote the book that I wrote. For one thing, the 2016 election is a carcass that will be picked over for decades to come by many other writers; I’m not needed for that task. And what I did was something that needed doing – and that now can no longer be done, because time moves in only one direction. What I did was to pay attention to and document various slices of American experience and perspective at a particular historical moment. The half- (but only half-) joking way that I found myself putting this – even before 2016 – is that 2012 might turn out to have been the last normal presidential election in American history.
If so, then I’m especially glad to have traveled when I did, and Home Free preserves, as in amber, a version of the United States of America to which we might want to make reference in coming years, as we try to rebuild a polity or polities amid the ruins of what happened in 2016.
Very near the end of Home Free, I included a passage that I hoped would pique my reader’s imagination:
One of the motivating premises of my project had been that America was not separate or different from the rest of the world. I had proven that, at least to my own satisfaction. And I had seen for myself that while the United States, plural, might be in some sense a single country, they are also an archipelago of disparate communities. Whether the center would hold was an open question.
In the summer of 2013, when I wrote that passage, it would still have been very credible for a reader to ask pointedly what the heck I thought I was getting at. Now, I think it’s clear enough – to the extent that anything is clear – that I was onto something. The center is failing to hold. The new question is: Now what?
That’s the question I address, episodically and incompletely, in my new book America: Now What? and Other Questions. The book is a collection of essays and speeches that developing events compelled me to write between early 2013 and late 2016. That time period is already, clearly, a historically significant one. As I reread the pieces and prepare them for publication in book form later this year, I’m both astonished and gratified to find that, collectively, they really do constitute a coherent book-length sequel to Home Free.
Watch this space, as I use this blog to continue reflecting on what I saw, heard, and learned during my 2012 Home Free road trip. I also will be sharing some of the essays from America: Now What? To start with, I invite you to read the essay that I wrote over the ten days immediately following the 2016 presidential election, “What Can I Say?: In Search of Starting Points and New Words. That essay will be included in America: Now What? but you can open or download it as a PDF, with my compliments, from this link.
You can also support the publication of America: Now What? and Other Questions (and receive a complimentary copy of Home Free: An American Road Trip) by pre-purchasing it for $14.95 plus $3.95 shipping: