The Power of Now

Previously in these pages, I wrote about how computer technology and social media have turned the US into Instant Gratification Nation. (See I Miss Anticipa-a-a-tion, Which Used to Keepin’ Me Waitin’ Like a Polaroid Picture, 18 July 2012.)

I’m still concerned that getting news, music, movies, and messages immediately with little effort on anyone’s part might be turning us into a nation of tantruming toddlers who want what we want when we want it. And we expect to get it.

I’m not taking that back or admitting I was wrong or anything (no way!). However, I can see now how this cultural transformation also has a positive side. It’s also helping to fast-track certain progressive social movements that I believe in. And that’s an incredibly encouraging development.

Call me a hypocrite, but when it comes to liberal politics, I’m all for the very traits I was criticizing in individuals. Hooray for impatience! Hooray for high expectations! Hooray for getting what we want…Now!

In fact, I can hear this chant in my head:

Question: What do we want?

Answer: First woman president, first Latino or Latina president, marriage equality, gun control, immigration reform.

Question: When do we want it?

Answer: Now. Now. NOW!

This is how I see it: All these issues have been back burnered or blocked for years, even decades. And now, suddenly, every one of them is front and center.

There are many reasons why: we have a President who wants to be a transformational figure and accomplish a center-progressive agenda; the younger generation tends to be more accepting of differences in backgrounds and beliefs and lifestyles; shifting demographics are giving minority voters greater power; and America generally moves in the direction of granting greater expansion and protection of rights.

I also believe that something else is at work here. I think this instasociety we live in is changing the way we measure time and progress. Societal restrictions and biases that seemed acceptable or were tolerated in the past just seem ludicrous to so many of us now, and we expect change, like everything else in our lives, to happen fast.

Let’s just focus on two areas where change is accelerating at a faster rate than anyone could have predicted: women and minorities in positions of political power, and same-sex marriage.

In the world of presidential politics, electing the first African-American president might have been an anomaly. Re-electing President Obama, however, showed that wasn’t the case.

And now, in 2013, three-and-a-half years before the next presidential election, Hillary Clinton is the de facto Democratic nominee. In fact, she’s considered such a shoe-in that no Democrat, not even the current Vice President, would challenge her. Clearly, the party power-mongers believe that the majority of the country is not just ready, but eager, to elect her and make history… again.

Similarly, many Republican politicos, who recognize that their party has fallen behind the times, believe that a Latino politician like Senator Marco Rubio might be the party’s savior. Wow.

When it comes to the issue of marriage equality, progress may be frustratingly slow, but the recent change in attitudes is remarkable. When George W. Bush ran for President for the first time in 2000, his “brain” (Karl Rove) used same-sex marriage as a wedge issue to drive conservatives in swing states to the polls. It’s one of the key reasons (other than the small matter of the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore) that Bush won. A few years later, in 2003, same-sex marriage remained unpopular, with only 33 percent of Americans saying they supported it.

Today, a mere decade later, according to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog, 51 percent of Americans say they approve of marriage equality. Ten states plus the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage and ten states recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships. The Supreme Court might—might—overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act in the coming months.

These are monumental developments that would have seemed improbable, if not impossible, just a decade ago. And they’re due, in part, to our insistence that change occur now, now, NOW.

There’s an old saying that “patience is a virtue.” Not anymore.