Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Fear and Loathing in 2016 - The Presidential Election

Mostly I sharethings on Facebook these days. But sometimes I post something that I want to have in a more public forum. Though I have far, far fewer followers on Blogspot than on Facebook, search engines are more likely to find things here than there. So with that in mind, I am going to share some things that got their first exposure on FB.

I originally posted this as the election results came in and it looked clear that Donald Trump was going to be the next president of the United States of America:

When I was in high school, it was the height of the Reagan-era Cold War. As a boy growing up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to an adult college-student mom in an aggressively social-engineered elementary school that promoted diversity, understanding, and peace, Reagan was the boogieman. He made threatening comments against the Russians. The Doomsday Clock clicked closer to midnight. And all the advances in social justice and environmental responsibility were doomed to be rolled back by his presence.

I campaigned for Mondale in 1984. I wore Mondale buttons and handed out literature in Grand Central Terminal. I drew a cartoon of Reagan's face on a Ghostbusters button and wore it on my hat. And I truly believed that the missiles would fly if Reagan was re-elected. In Stuyvesant High School, most of my friends shared that feeling.

On the night of the election I was doing my homework when the results came in. Shortly after the election was called, I heard a roar in the sky outside my window. I honestly feared that it was a nuclear ICBM, and checked my clock to see how long before the counter-strike would come.
I have never felt as scared after a presidential election since then. Disappointed, yes. Upset, occasionally, but never scared.

But his year, as CNN tallies up the votes, I am even more scared. the electoral process has disappointed me at every turn, but the worst is how a person that is so divisive, so unsympathetic, so vitriolic in his message of hate, anger, and intolerance, that it took the messiest party convention I have seen to get him nominated, could come so close to winning.

I have been surfing YouTube a lot this year. I have always had a fascination for the history of World War II. It may be a bit of a stretch to call Trump America's Hitler (some of us said the same thing about Reagan back in the day), but things he has said, his pattern of behavior, has opened up a world of negative possibility for the future.

I fear for the safety of our democracy. Up until the end of the 20th century, thus history could be generalized as a "March to Freedom," a history of expanding rights to all people in the US, towards a greater realization of the American dream.

Since then, however there has been a re-fracturing of our society as those who are comfortable with their place in the status quo do whatever they can to keep it, and fear is an easier card to play than hope. So identifying a boogeyman and defining your role in society as a leader against that boogieman is a safe bet, if you are willing to ride it all the way with no holding back.

The trouble with "not holding back" is that it takes you into modes of behavior and the doing of deeds that are beyond the bounds of what we call civility, courtesy, respect, politeness, and all that makes it possible for people to get along despite their differences and prejudices.

In a nation of "E Pluribus Unum" ("of many, one") figuring out how to get along is the path to survival. Being uncompromising is admirable when standing up for that which you believe, but believing in compromise is not sexy, and willingness to get along is seen as a sign of weakness. This is true especially when you have gotten where you are by being uncompromising.

So as the vote counting drags on I have a fear that this may be the last election in this country, and the ideals of this great nation, tested in so many ways over these past 240 years, to the point where they are almost illusory, will become corrupted to the point of being forgotten, and ultimately disappear, never to inspire social progress again. That is what scares me.

Now Trump is making his acceptance speech. So far he is saying all the right things about being president for all of us and uniting people. Whether or not he achieves this remains to be seen. We have four years. Keep the faith.

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