Stay the Course
As Election Day arrives, it’s not as bad as you think—if you take the long view. Here are a number of reasons to stay calm in the storm.
The three title words of this piece may sound hopelessly tone deaf, given the total sh*tstorm happening outside our barricaded homes, today, as countless Americans — and a global population that fears imminent fallout — hold our breath in anticipation of the most consequential election of anyone’s lifetimes, in the United States of America.
Never before, in the history of a modern, post-industrial, democratic civilization, has the one and only thing that binds all citizens — the pre-conditional act of voting for one’s leaders, hence future — been so openly obstructed.
Without free and open elections, there is no democracy. It’s that simple. Democracy — even a veiled and complex one, as it is practiced in the United States — dies without it.
We should’ve seen it coming.
A Brief History Lesson
Twenty years ago, we had a preview, when George W. Bush largely litigated his way into the Oval Office, besting Al Gore as George’s own brother, Jeb — the Florida governor — and his Republican Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, collectively led the charge to sway the US election in the state whose electoral votes would effectively decide it. Their tactics were gymnastic, and vertiginous: manual recounts; halted re-recounts; scrutinized dangling chads; ‘lost’ votes from Democratic counties; cherry-picked Republican electors; state and federal Supreme Court petitions; lawsuits up the yin-yang… Over a month later, the matter was decided by those in (state) power. As Wikipedia retells:
“Meanwhile, on December 6 the Republican-controlled Florida legislature convened a special session to appoint a slate of electors pledged to Bush, as the U.S. Constitution bestows upon state legislatures the duty to determine how its state’s electors are appointed. On December 12, the same day as the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the Florida House approved awarding the state’s electoral votes to Bush, but the matter was moot after the Court’s ruling.”
On December 13, after both Bushes and Harris finally prevailed, Gore conceded.
The 2000 election was officially decided by just 537 votes, in a nation of over 300 million; but in truth, it was the outcome of a set of legal games and backdoor dealings, by those already in power, to leverage their networks and hand-deliver an election on specious grounds.
I remember it painfully well.
Then, there was 2016. The Council on Foreign Relations recalls that “the Russian effort involved overt activities by government agencies, state-backed media, and paid internet “trolls,” as well as covert operations, including illicit cyber activities conducted by intelligence agents.” In a nation gripped by social media addiction, the disinformation that spread about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party was rampant, swaying voters in an attempt to install a Russia-friendly president. Then, there was Comey’s FBI. For the first time in its history, the FBI decided to re-open a previously resolved and absolved inquiry into Clinton’s private email server, during the election process. In fact, just 11 days before the vote, Comey re-ignited national mistrust in Clinton, the woman, whom polls showed way ahead of Trump regardless. They did this by dangling the specter that she wasn’t who she seemed to be. Then, just 2 days before the election, Comey suddenly reversed course — again — and issued a statement of non-complicity. Trump jumped on this, calling the election rigged, and falsely claiming that Comey had succumbed to pressure from… you got it: Hillary Clinton.
Needless to say, the voters, disinformed and already disenfranchised with government in general as they were, believed what Russia, Comey and Trump were all telling them, and we elected the nation’s first-ever non-public servant, and its oldest-ever first termer.
You know: to f*ck the system, and bring it down.
The rest, as we know, is history.
We have effectively done just that.
With Trump himself refusing to concede if he loses, already claiming widespread fraud, and waging a legal and weaponized war on mail-in ballots; with Republicans planning to plant party-faithful electors in a stalemate, as they did in 2000, to seed a ‘shadow government’ in case things don’t go their way; with the nation’s unmatched legal machinery humming on idle, and its police forces, too; with the citizens arming themselves to the teeth, spurring a record number of gun sales; with Russia (and now Iran, and the Ukraine) all sowing dissent, and disinformation online, again; with QAnon and a nation’s worth of militias vowing civil war, whatever happens; with our cities boarded up in anticipation of said war; with the lowest-ever recorded confidence level in government — 17% — currently gripping the nation, according to Pew Research; with 230,000 Americans already dead from a pandemic that is projected to claim more lives than any other single cause in US history — more than the US Civil War and World War II; and with more Americans out of work and hungry than ever before — 51 million, excluding those who finished collecting unemployment benefits, no longer eligible — against 157 million employed, according to Forbes…
This year’s election doesn’t feel normal. It doesn’t feel fair. It doesn’t feel representational. It doesn’t feel safe. It doesn’t feel free. It doesn’t even seem democratic.
The only thing it does feel is f*cked up. As though, in the blink of an eye, the United States mutated from being a revered world power, not just in military might but in aspirational freedoms — of scientific discovery and inventiveness, of creative leadership and artistic genius, of inevitability — to a Banana Republic full of weaponized strongmen waging war on themselves, while racing headlong into the dustbin of past empires.
A Case for Calm
So what’s left to say? What can possibly deliver on any hope over coming out the other side, into familiarity, however much we used to complain about that? To when due process ran its course, however it concluded, and we abided by its results, without contest? With grace, even, in defeat? Isn’t that how we like our other heroes — the ones who vie for a pennant, or cup, or ring?
Is grace possible in the Age of Trump?
Here’s what I can tell you.
When you wake up tomorrow, your life — surroundings, family, coffee, neighbors, schedule, and even your bank account — won’t look much different. You’ll still have your marbles, and likely your job. The buildings will still be standing, and the leaves will still be falling on their way to winter. The sun will rise, and set. The lights will continue to turn on. And most likely, it will be safe to step foot outside. (But check first.) Your health will still be better than it would’ve been through most of human history, with doctors who understand more than they did just a generation ago. Your children will still complain, and ask to sleep in, and tell you they hate remote learning. Or, they will still petition you with requests for sugar cereal, and extra tech time. Your social media will still be shouting. Selfies will continue to be posted. Music will continue to be released by artists who may have suddenly gained more source material. Artists love hardship. It feeds the creative process.
There will still be countless non-Americans who continue to live their lives without interruption, around the rest of the world; without change. These are the same people whose lives we thought were worse than ours just a few years ago, and whose lives suddenly look less tumultuous than we thought they were. We may learn that there are many flavors of living, and that most of them are neither good nor bad, neither better nor worse. They are just different. And people look happy pretty much everywhere you look. As many people look unhappy pretty much everywhere you look. Because to be a human is to live in a constant state of interaction: with other people; with governing systems; with strivers; and with a**holes, too. They are not unique to the United States.
Good and bad people doing good and bad things has been the rule, for most of human history — not the exception. Americans simply enjoyed a period of relative peace — a lull in outsized human drama — for a long period. We were the happy recipients of that grace. How lucky we were to have experienced it. Most don’t. Many grow up in militiant societies, or autocratic strongholds, or places without freedom, or running water, or relative safety; places with rampant inflation that makes the price of bread untenable, let alone the luxury of a logo mask, during COVID-19. In large swaths of the world, people die from things we pop pills to fix, then move on with our day, as usual. That will still be the case, tomorrow, whomever wins — or doesn’t win — the presidency.
The roads won’t suddenly crack. That will take years of neglect, to ‘accomplish’. The Internet will still work, whatever garbage suffocates your feeds. Your deadlines won’t change, if you’ve the luxury of being employed. Your grocer will still overcharge you for organic produce, but at least you’ll be able to find it. People will still complain over Zoom calls, as you go about your day. Amazon will still deliver the things you don’t feel comfortable standing in line to procure. And all those crazy people dressed like Mad Max out there, toting military hardware and itching to use it? We still have the world’s largest and most punishing military — at least for a while. They will make sure things don’t get too out of hand, just as they did during the first Civil Rights era. Our mighty military won’t abide by more than a few children shot in their own schools, daily.
We have our limits.
Industries may continue to deregulate, depending on who’s in charge, but that’s not news, nor new. Elected officials will continue to champion causes handed to them by their donors — the people who secretly fund their own mansions, and retirements. American creatives will continue to advance the cottage industry of hyper-local production, on the backs of 3D printers and venture capital-backed ideas. $5 lattes will still proliferate. There will still be ways to make money, either directly or through investment. The price of drugs will continue to skyrocket; but Canada is only a flight away, once the quarantines lift, where drug prices are regulated, so that its citizens can afford to stay healthy; and where you, too, can find affordable meds, with the right connections <cough> And credit card companies and banks will continue to lend you as much money as you care to spend — however deep a hole you wish to dig — before your debts either cripple you, or you negotiate terms to settle, down the road. Throughout this process, you will remain alive, and breathing, and spending. People will continue to overeat the things that rich agribusinesses continue to concoct, and sell. You will more likely die of overeating than undereating; but on the way there, it will be tasty. Doctors will still be on hand to administer open-heart surgery — very complicated stuff — to fix you, in your embarrassment of caloric indulgence — and you will be fine, if a little sore. Lululemon will continue to supply you with stretchy pyjamas to make your waist feel less constrained as you grow. You live in a nation of plenty. And no one will ever make you wear a belt — or what I’d call actual clothing — ever again. It’s slippers and street pyjamas for everyone!
So, you see, life tomorrow will be normal.
Tomorrow won’t bring Armageddon, however much it feels that way, today. Most everything in your life — absent what the virus is doing, and what some rogue, angry militants may try — will look cripplingly boring tomorrow, too.
So grab a friend, and a good bottle of wine, or a six-pack; get some food together for the show; and buckle up, because there’s a good chance that tomorrow will be the start of something else — something different; but it’s going to take a while — maybe, even, more time than you have left, on Earth — for things to look so incredibly different that the things you take for granted now, every moment of every day, will no longer be there, to be enjoyed.
This is called life.
Stay the course.