Don Quixote Saving America

By Michael Lederer

DQYou know what tribe I belong to? Put your hand on a table. Now hit it with a rock. If it hurts, then you and I belong to the same tribe. The Hit-my-hand-with-a-rock-and-it-hurts tribe.

Ide­al­ism 101.

Want­i­ng to believe a thing is the first and biggest step. From that to believ­ing is as easy as land­ing in the water after you’ve already jumped.

I want to believe, and there­fore I do believe, that – as politi­cians like to tell us – America’s best days are ahead. Roman­ti­cized peri­ods of our past – the Old West, the 1950s – still saw whole swaths of Amer­i­cans denied their shot at the dream. Lib­er­ty for some! But in this still-dawn of a new mil­len­ni­um we have the chance, as Oprah put it, to “turn our wounds into wisdom.”

I’ll admit such opti­mism is not always easy to main­tain. One peek at the day’s news is enough to send many opti­mists scur­ry­ing over to the oth­er side. Vast legions of Darth Vaders have crossed the bridge. One cyn­i­cal char­ac­ter in my first nov­el, Cadaqués, says, “Beau­ty is yes­ter­year, dar­ling. Get over it!” I love the char­ac­ter, though I don’t agree with him. Which is why in my new nov­el, Don Quixote Sav­ing Amer­i­ca (not yet pub­lished), anoth­er char­ac­ter, Don Hotey, and hand­some young hitch­hik­er San­cho set out in a beat-up old car to “fix what’s bro­ken.” Amer­i­ca is their Dul­cinea. “We love her,” says Don. “We dream about her. We want the best for her. And I guess we’d do just about any­thing for her.”

The Amer­i­ca he’s talk­ing about, how­ev­er, is not the one reflect­ed in the dai­ly news: Fer­gu­son, Sandy Hook, Wash­ing­ton D.C. He’s talk­ing about that stub­born old dream of a mul­ti­c­ul­ti May­ber­ry. “Neigh­bors help­ing neigh­bors, every­one say­ing please and thank you, and no fart jokes. Not like the coun­try they show in all those movies where they tell you how messed up every­thing is, then even get you to laugh at it.”

Like the hero in Cer­vantes’ mas­ter­piece (400 years old this year), my Don believes in dreams com­ing true. As they dri­ve through the Neva­da desert he explains: “This coun­try is still young, San­cho. It’s got a lot to learn still. Why, do you real­ize I was born in 1946? That was before Face­book, before Star­bucks, before a lot of things. On the day I was born there had to be at least a hand­ful of peo­ple a hun­dred years old, which means they were born in 1846. And some­body a hun­dred years old on the day they were born, well then they were born in 1746. That was before this coun­try even got start­ed. That’s just three life­times to get all the way from there to here.”

It’s not that we found this New World a long time ago, it’s that we’re still mak­ing this New World right now. And a new world takes time.

A free-range chick­en or tofu in every pot, clean sus­tain­able ener­gy, lib­er­ty and oppor­tu­ni­ty for all… Don believes we’ll get there. And I want to believe he’s right.

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Michael Led­er­er is an Amer­i­can writer who lives in Berlin, Dubrovnik, and Cadaqués. His first nov­el, Cadaqués, was pub­lished in Feb­ru­ary 2014. He has just writ­ten his sec­ond nov­el, Don Quixote Sav­ing Amer­i­ca.