“You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.” –Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary
“If we define an American fascist as one who in case of conflict puts money and power ahead of human beings, then there are undoubtedly several million fascists in the United States.” –Henry Wallace
Remember the old days, when it was common to say that the distinction between Republicans and Democrats was simply a matter of both wanting the same things for our country but just having slightly different ways of getting there? Gosh, how swell we all were. Remember when it was normal for members of Congress to “reach across the aisle,” to pass lots of “bipartisan legislation” on issues we could all agree on? How quaint. Remember when, even though you may have really cared who won the presidential election, your everyday life and the general tension and anxiety you felt in the ensuing four years didn’t change much depending upon who won? Remember that? I do.
Those days are gone.
Although I have voted in every election since I was 18, I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t the most politically aware and engaged citizen in my teens and twenties. If there was a wild disparity between the candidates’ positions and how their time in office would shake out for us, I was blissfully ignorant of it. And while I know that no one likes it when their party’s candidates lose the big races, I just never felt a lot of extreme animosity between the actual voters based on who they were voting for. Like I said, maybe that was simply my ignorance and the naïveté of an optimistic youth, but maybe there is more to it. Maybe we actually had more in common with each other back then, politically speaking, and the reach across the aisle didn’t require all that much flexibility. Maybe we only needed to be sour about the lost elections for a few weeks or months—definitely not years–afterward because our lives didn’t actually change that much either way.
This moment feels nothing like that to me.
I remember Election Night in 2016. As it became clear that Donald Trump was on his way to defeating Hillary Clinton, a feeling of awful dread came over me. Here was a man who had, in both his presidential campaign and his many years of celebrity beforehand, exhibited blatant racism, sexism, xenophobia, boasts of sexual assault, and general moral indecency. Combined with the fact that the policies he stood for and against were in direct opposition to my own, I was none too excited about the coming four years under his leadership.
Still, I held out some measure of hope that, as many pundits suggested, “the office would chasten him.” Surely, as the representative of every American, he would tone down his callousness toward the majority of them. Surely, as someone without experience in global politics and diplomacy, he would surround himself with wise and seasoned counsel and heed their advice in order to keep Americans safe and prosperous and keep America in its position as world leader.
None of that happened. As the four years have dragged on, one Twitter rant and national embarrassment at a time, my hopes have long since faded. As I listened to a news show this week, the host implored the President to use these last days before the election to turn things around on his brazen, anti-science messaging around the coronavirus pandemic in order to save American lives. The guest, once a surrogate for the President, shook his head and said, “No chance.”
That is the essence of the effects of these last four years of American politics for me: a crushing of hope, a growing shame, perpetual disappointment, and a growing list of reasons to fear for my family’s health and safety.
So you better believe I am anxious about Election Day 2020. Even with all that has been lost under this leadership, there is still so much more to lose if it is allowed to continue. These are just a few of the things that keep me up at night when I think about four more years of this:
The environment matters to me, as does addressing the scientific reality of climate change. When we began this Presidency by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords, I knew it signaled an opening of the floodgates. It sickens me each time I read of the administration’s gutting of our environmental regulations–more than 100 at this point, including the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act–and opens once-protected lands to new drilling, logging, mining, and fracking. The sides in this election could not be more different when it comes to climate change and the environment, and indeed, even simply acknowledging the value of science and truth.
Health care matters to me. Even though neither of the big party candidates endorses the universal health care/Medicare For All type of plan that I believe would best serve all Americans, it is clear which candidate’s plan–or, at least, the one candidate with a plan–will get more people covered with fewer of the crippling expenses. I will not get to my preferred destination in this election, but I at least want the guy who is going in the same direction I am.
Our democratic norms matter to me. I miss the days when the President actually followed the rules and norms associated with the office (even if I despised that President). The President used to be unable to profit directly from the Presidency while he was President. The President and his staff used to not endorse products. The President used to not give top security clearance to people denied security clearance. The President used to not publicly urge the Attorney General to bring charges against his political opponents. The President used to not conspire with foreign governments (especially enemy governments) to get elected. The President used to disclose his taxes and financial dealings so that the people knew to whom he might be beholden. The President and his doctors used to tell us the truth (at least most of it) about the President’s health. The President used to not encourage uprisings in the states or fail to condemn threats against governors. The President used to not spread lies meant to cast doubt on the validity of an election. The President used to not directly contradict the findings of his own Intelligence agencies and Health experts.
Decency matters to me. Period.
I wish I didn’t have to mention this after all of these months, but here goes: a national plan to control the coronavirus pandemic and to get ordinary Americans and small businesses back on their feet financially matters to me. The current administration has plainly had its chance and failed miserably with its anti-science, anti-responsibility, “non-plan” approach. Nearly a quarter of a MILLION Americans have died as a result. It is indefensible. There is another way, as proven by most other countries around the world.
Finally–and this feels absurd that I should have to say this in America in 2020, but I do–my Black family’s safety matters to me. I know there are lots of White Americans out there rolling their eyes at this idea. If that is you, consider yourself privileged. When the President calls the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville “very fine people,” their websites celebrate a major victory and hail him as their leader. When the President tells the violent, neo-fascist Proud Boys to “stand by,” the effect upon them is the same. When he is silent around issues of police brutality and the killing of unarmed Black people, it is a clear message to those inclined to do that kind of harm. His lead in the birther conspiracy regarding President Obama, his history of racist business practices, and his infamous role in the Central Park Five miscarriage of justice all further lay that racist foundation. If those things seem disconnected from your life and just another knock on the man’s flawed morals, then, again, consider yourself lucky. If you are Black or Brown, however, you know that these comments and this silence have a very real impact on your life. I have loved ones who have anxiety about being out anymore, who fear being physically or verbally assaulted in a public place by White supremacists emboldened by the President. Think about that. Hate groups reveling in their glorious worst because their ideal President gives them an encouraging wink and a dogwhistle. The momentum of it builds with each speech and act, and the number of hate groups has risen dramatically during this administration. I have watched videos of these groups showing their eagerness to bring violence should the Democrats win this election. Imagine how much worse it will be with another four years of hate-mongering. It should not be the burden of any American to carry that fear with them every day.
I am well aware that there are many more reasons people are feeling anxious about the results of this election. Supreme Court imbalances, women’s rights, immigration, LGBTQ rights, gun control, the stock market, minimum wage, college tuition pricing, corruption, decline in our standing in the world at large, and on and on and on. And not just on my side of the spectrum. All sides. And not just reasonable concerns backed by facts and historical record. The liars and conspiracy pushers make for fantastic anxiety boosters. My own mother, for example, consumes Fox News like a drug all day long and happily swallows any flavor of nonsense they feed her and uses it to fuel her delusions about what the Democrats might do if elected. Even if you are so fortunate as to be unconcerned with politics, I don’t see how you aren’t still aware of this moment’s effects on your family and friends. The tension is palpable.
I suppose the only thing to do now is to vote and then see what those votes tell us. Of course, if the Proud Boys videos are accurate, we may then have to endure a “war” in our own country. Ah yes, another reason for anxiety, just what we need. For me, those vote totals will either lead to four more years of stress (and anger and sadness and embarrassment and…..), or they will lead to what I hope will be a pivot point, the first step of many in the direction toward Calm and Decency. As one of the candidates is fond of saying, it really does feel like a battle for “the soul of America.” I hope my soul can relax soon, because, politically speaking, these have been the four worst, most tense years of my life, by a country mile. I will be on the edge of my seat come the first week of November, aching to lay down this heavy load. The stress has taken over me.
How about you? What stresses you about the results of the upcoming election? Open up your journal and sort out what the different leaders might bring to your life and your mental health. Over the last four years, what things have been lost or gained in our country’s leadership? How is this administration different than a “normal” one? Which of those differences would you like to see continue? Which aspects of the current President most concern you? Which issues are mere annoyances–personality flaws or differences of opinion on policy issues–and which are downright alarming (e.g. genuine threats to democracy)? Have you felt your personal health or safety unusually threatened under the current President, with things such as COVID-19 or unchecked hate groups? How unsettling are the flouting of democratic norms and authoritarian tendencies (e.g. use of Justice Department to threaten personal enemies, use of Presidency for direct financial gain, antagonizing journalists) to you? How has your general stress level changed in the last four years? Do you miss Decency and Grace? What are you most anxious about losing if the President wins re-election? Let’s switch it around. If you are voting for the President to win again, how anxious are you about what a Democratic leadership would bring? What issues most worry you? Of the things that you gained in the current Presidency, which of those things would it hurt you most to lose? Do you recall all of the things you thought were so terrible about President Obama? Do you fear a repeat of that if the Democrats win this time? Do you fear worse this time? In what ways? Do you believe that someone who has been a moderate his entire life is suddenly going to become a “radical liberal?” What does your worst-case scenario look like? No matter which side you are voting for, on a scale of 1 to10, how stressed are you about this election? Is that number higher or lower than most of the people in your life? Is it higher or lower than in other election years? What is it about this one? Have you found any ways to reduce your election stress? If you could look four years into the future, do you think the next big election will bring you any less stress? Does this feel like the most important election of your lifetime? Is that why it brings so much tension? Leave me a reply and let me know: What do you have to lose on November 3rd?
Vote like your life depends on it,
P.S. If today’s letter resonates with you, please share it with all the parties you know. In the end, it is our connectedness that will save us.
P.P.S. If you like this way of introspection, please consider buying my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.
Right on Billy!