Usually I write these posts on my couch after supper on Tuesdays, when the kids have finished their homework and my wife Amanda and I have had supper. There’s a rhythm to it, and the slight adrenaline rush of being on deadline before Tuesday turns to Wednesday and I’ve let my fellow Dead Guys down.
This evening, like so many other people around the country and world, I’ll be in front of the TV watching election returns, nervous about the future and relieved that this endless cycle of primaries, analyses, ads and debates is finally at an end.
I’m a political junkie, and one of my great pastimes is providing color commentary with Amanda as we see the process unfold. I’m passionate in my opinions and believe that the candidate I support is strong and will lead the country in the right direction. I want him to win, and I want him to succeed. But this campaign has felt like the culmination of the last 20 or so years’ worth of descent into deepest incivility; of wedges and Pledges and intransigence and greater and greater hatred and dishonesty. And over the last two elections, the breakdown of civility has become so noxious that it’s not possible to enjoy it anymore. If my guy wins, he will have a devil of a four years trying to get his agenda passed.
And I DO believe that the process of electing a government—such a special right we have here in the United States—ought to be enjoyable, even while serious and vitally, vitally important. I feel like it ought to be possible to discuss issues, and disagree with friends about them, without worrying about receiving a hundred hate-filled emails filled with ad hominem attacks. I feel like my daughter ought to be able to tell her classmates whom her parents support without being surrounded in the hall and tormented (and it’s not like we are voting for either a socialist or a libertarian—regardless of what either side says!).
Most of all, though, I want to be able to vote for my president and local representatives with the confidence that they are going to be thoughtful about the decisions they make and the votes they cast. I don’t WANT to see lock-step adherence to a platform, or swift punishment for deviation. It’s forcing politicians all over the country to abandon any creativity or subjectivity in the name of party orthodoxy. The system is perverted and broken.
It’s not that incivility and political hatred and divisiveness are new concepts, whether in the US (cf: Andrew Jackson, Tammany Hall, Wallace, on and on…) or abroad. It’s that this is among the first elections in the Information Age, where social media and cable networks are powerful enough to pull the sides apart rather than engaging in any kind of productive conversation, and unregulated organizations who are interested in particular issues are able to flood your inbox and Facebook feeds as well as the airwaves.
With all this depression—and the knowledge that I’m spitting in the wind, that the conversation isn’t going to improve any time soon—there are still very significant factors that keep me proud, that remind me that the United States is a remarkable and exciting experiment in institutional civility. I know, for example, that regardless of the result today, there is unlikely to be either rioting in the streets or independent militias marching on Washington, DC. There may be gridlock in Congress (sob!), but not Civil War. That may feel like a pretty lame leap—that I’m only proud that there won’t be WAR—but talk to a citizen of Egypt if you think that’s farfetched.
This evening, after I leave work, I will meet Amanda and the kids and we will vote in the public school down the block from our home. We will wait in line past the PA bake sale, wend our way to the cafeteria. Like generations of children before, my daughters will stand in front of me and tick off name after name, and hop past the brownies toward Columbus Avenue. We will smile nervously at those folks still waiting on line, then we will go home, turn on the television, and open our first bottle of wine.