The view of America from Manhattan was pretty bleak on the morning after November 2, 2004. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, typically a levelheaded observer of world affairs, watched America become "two nations under God."
"We don't just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is," Friedman wrote about the "Christian fundamentalists" who helped propel President Bush to reelection against Sen. John Kerry. "Is it a country that does not intrude into people's sexual preferences and the marriage unions they want to make? Is it a country that allows a woman to have control over her body? Is it a country where the line between church and state bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers should be inviolate? Is it a country where religion doesn't trump science? And, most important, is it a country whose president mobilizes its deep moral energies to unite us - instead of dividing us from one another and from the world?"
The view north of Chicago in Evanston, Illinois, was even more ominous. Northwestern University adjunct history professor Garry Wills declared November 2, 2004, "the day the enlightenment went out." No longer did America take after France, Britain, Germany, Italy or Spain. No, Bush's America harbored "fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity." In short, the new America shared more in common with Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Sunni loyalists. Christian fundamentalists, still fuming over the embarrassment of the Scopes trial in 1925, had finally enacted a jihad Wills dubbed "Bryan's revenge." Now these Christians would be able to impose their irrational, bigoted opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Thinkers like Wills could only ask: "Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation?"
Four years later, perhaps Wills can answer this question more to his liking. If Sen. Barack Obama defeats Sen. John McCain on Tuesday, does that mean the Enlightenment's flame has been rekindled? Has science won the tug-of-war with religion? Would Friedman conclude that two Americas have become one again?
Elections make intelligent people say and do unintelligent things. But they also make faithful people talk and act as if they had little faith. Focus on the Family Action is circulating a hypothetical letter from 2012 that explains how the United States has changed in President Obama's first term. According to Focus on the Family Action, Obama rallied support from Democratic majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives to mandate same-sex marriage across the country, eliminate restrictions on abortion, and reinforce the wall that separates church from state. Each of these developments is plausible, given Obama's track record and campaign statements.
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