Well, now, there’s two, there’s two trains running
Well, they ain’t never, no, going my way
Well, now, one run at midnight and the other one
Running just ’fore day …
— Muddy Waters, “Still a Fool”
It doesn’t take a bluesman to see that there are two trains running in this country these days. One is headed inexorably to the future, into daylight; the other — the midnight train — is straining to return to the darkness of the past. Passengers on the morning train are a mix of races, ages, creeds, sexual identities. The midnight train is mostly filled with old white people.
Both trains pulled into SCOTUS Station last week, and both picked up a new freight car. The morning train got a fresh load of freedom for gay Americans — the overturning of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and the repealing of California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in that state. Within 24 hours of the ruling, gays began getting married in California and applying for spousal benefits.
The midnight train’s new car contained the overturning of a critical portion of the 1960s-era Voting Rights Act — the part where Southern states with a long history of restrictive voting laws designed to favor white people and discourage black people were required to have any proposed new voting regulations reviewed by the Justice Department. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that this sort of supervision is no longer necessary because the South has changed. Within 24 hours of the ruling, several Southern states announced plans for imposing new voting restrictions. Some change. Full speed backward.
Yes, I know, the train metaphor is simplistic, but it’s not difficult to see the tectonic generational, demographic, and gender-attitude shifts going on in this country, and the Supreme Court’s latest bipolar rulings reflect this reality.
On one hand, Republican-controlled states are passing radically more restrictive abortion legislation, strong anti-gay marriage laws, ridiculous NRA-backed gun bills, and ill-fated anti-immigration measures. Nationally, the right-wing Republicans in Congress are doing their best to derail immigration reform.
On the other hand, progressive-dominated states are eliminating marijuana laws, passing gay rights legislation, and keeping abortion safe and legal. Nationally, Democrats in Congress are working toward inevitable — and necessary — immigration reform.
Like it or not, the United States is getting more diverse and more open-minded. The coming generations of Americans will not be dominated by white males, and neither will the country. Unless the Republican Party figures this out soon, their midnight train is headed to oblivion.
It's deep in a November night in Memphis, and I'm awakened by rain. It's coming down hard, sounding like a million pebbles hitting the roof. The gutter I've been meaning to clean is overflowing outside the bedroom window. A flash of lightning illuminates the room, and I do what I've done since I was a boy: count the seconds 'til the thunder rolls. I get almost to 10 before I hear a distant rumble. Two miles or so. Someone else's lightning ...