October 31, 2020
Halloween. The Blue Moon. All Soul's Day. And the eve of an election the likes of which most of us have not experienced in our lifetimes. The gulf between ideologies has never seemed wider. Most of us are exhausted, and at best discouraged by the seeming state of affairs. It feels like compromise in service of a shared greater good has surrendered to confrontation; in lieu of debate, only demeaning. It is a depressing especially considered in the microcosm of 2020. Perhaps it has never felt so inconsequential to have only one voice, speaking or screaming into a virtual wind.
I've been reading a lot, both of current opinion and historical analysis written by a diversity of thinkers whom I respect. I suppose I am searching for seeds of hope that the common ties that bind us are not wrapping inexorably around our necks, but instead offer us a lifeline to pull ourselves forward. This isn't the first time I've been moved to address this great rift, nor am I naive enough to think this will be my final word on the subject.
Our history is rife with election stories both contentious and cantankerous. The fact that we managed to have the 1864 election during the Civil War should convince us that we have it in our DNA to manage this one if we choose. This is certainly not the first time our intolerance of opposing viewpoints has brought us to violence against each other - our nation was birthed in a seething cauldron of rage against the machinations of a monarchy across the Atlantic and its supporters on these shores. For us or against us, with no middle ground, little room for acceptance of anything short of complete capitulation. This an unfamiliarly familiar place.
But I do believe fervently that the ideals that brought us into existence demand something different of us. The opportunity to be a people of AND. The immigrants arriving in their different waves over the centuries in pursuit of belonging to that and, as vividly visualized through a beacon lofted in a woman's hand high above New York harbor. A simple iconography of the notion that all are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. The lofty words with which we work and wrestle as we try to bring them into full relief in our time.
At times in our history one voice rises clear above the din calling on us to do more, and to extend that umbrella into more full form. To protect those rights under law with appropriate consequences. To live up to our obligations and potential as the "freest people on this earth." Where each state, or community, or group is connected to each other by AND instead of the binary choice of either OR. That voice always calls out against a tide of resistance and anger likely rooted in subconscious fear. Our tribal affinity for OR is wound tightly into the deepest coils of our survival instinct.
Which preposition defines us then? From my armchair vantage point it seems the opposing ideologies of the 21st century distill into those two prepositions. One tribe who believe that we are a people of AND, and the other marching beneath the banner of OR. That each tribe sees this latest conflagration as an existential threat is fueled by both the internet-enabled medium of our times, and the willingness of some parties to stress test the very foundations and guardrails that we have taken as gospel truth for nearly 250 years.
I accept that these words are primarily for me at this moment. I harbor no illusions of changing any viewpoints about anything or anyone. The only result I can reasonably expect is that because of my beliefs some will assume I personally am no longer worthy of their tolerance. Fair enough. But when the dust and debris from these moments settle, what is left of our systems of laws, and even our very assumptions about our ideals, will require rebuilding if it is to survive. I am choosing to save my bricks to add to that process rather than hurl them through random windows of those who fervently believe I am wrong and beyond any redemption.
At this writing more than 80 million of us have already cast our ballots, exercising the most vital right in our grand American experiment. That franchise is hardened into the concrete of our foundation, including the rights of our citizens serving our interest abroad who vote by mail - their voices have equal stature as any of us. If you have not secured your ballot, please allow me the gift of a few moments more to convince you of the urgent need for you to do so.
Elections are frankly about everything in your life, from how your local schools are run and who collects your garbage right on up to the big decisions about going to war with some other nation-state. You can say that you hate politicians, and politics, and yet some of your fellow citizens are stepping forward for the right to represent you in your community, state and national interests. Someone will win each of those positions whether you participate or not. What you may think of their character is part of what influences your vote, but you aren't choosing a marriage partner. You are choosing who best represents your values and interests for the next 2 or 4 years in big decisions that affect you and your family. You can rationalize and excuse not doing so with any words you wish, but the consequences will still be yours - and ours - to bear.
What about the significance of your one vote? Three years ago in Virginia, control of our state house came down to the 100th race out of 100 seats. After a recount, the results were dead even - a tie. That control would likely decide whether or not to expand Medicaid to cover some 400,000 Virginians without health insurance. That seat was decided by drawing names out of a hat. One more voter choosing one party or the other's candidate would directly impact access to health care for nearly half a million people. The one vote to keep the outcome of that race in the hands of the citizenry could have been yours.
So if you are among those who have "held their nose" and committed their ballot to put our country and its values ahead of longtime party loyalty, thank you. I know this isn't easy. It is hard to tease a cohesive existential threat from the murky swirling chaos of constant news crises, but the potential is becoming alarmingly real. That you have chosen AND over OR may be THE vote that allows us to continue these arguments in the future while seeking to find common ground. Our history shows the machinations of weak and self-interested men like Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon were insufficient to destroy this collective of ideals. My prayers are that it still holds. My belief is that it will. My confidence in that belief is shaky.
For my family, friends, and neighbors whose beliefs are in stark contrast to mine now, please understand that when this is over the work of rebuilding belongs to all of us. You AND me. No OR involved. We live here together in our communities. We will have deep differences and resentments to overcome. We can choose - to continue seeing each of us as "the other" divided by those differences, or as "us" united by our common beliefs and respect for our individual liberties. Someone will have to find the grace and the courage to do so; to accept that part of our uniquely American DNA that sees our many differences united under one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, no exceptions. That someone is us. The torch is already lit, and the time is upon us.
I offer this brick to share with you, to build something better together. It is the only way I know.