I wrote most of the following last night around 2:30 in the morning, 21 hours after I woke up in Cleveland to do get-out-the-vote work with two friends for Move On, and about 11 hours after we left Cleveland for the long drive home to New York, buoyed by our experiences and the reports of record voter turnout, and fairly brimming with confidence that our efforts would help turn the tide in the election and change the course of our country.
Through the eight hour ride that followed and the news we've now all heard, this proved not to be the case. I trust many of the people reading this share the same mix of fear, sadness, anger and plain incomprehension that troubled me all through the evening and deep into the night, and that I'm still feeling this morning. Our hopes have proven to be self-delusion. We amplified and echoed them through god knows how many websites, well-argued polemicals and urgent calls to action, until we came to see those hopes as facts just not yet revealed. We fooled ourselves into thinking this country is something it is not, and now we are stranded in a reality we didn't choose, but which will impose grave costs upon us.
The people have spoken, and what they said was: Fuck you. The popular vote is not in doubt, and I trust it is an accurate reflection of the priorities of the country.
The thought of all the smart, earnest progressives out there, trying to rationalize our loss and explain how it happened and what it all means, strikes me as the cherry on top of our collective hubris and misapprehension. It would be a vast understatement to state that such an exercise misses the point. A way to sum it up--sparing us all the excruciating details of a future of endless debt, the ongoing shift of the taxation burden from wealth to work, codified and officially sanctioned homophobia, unchecked corporate consolidation and deregulation, an ideologically driven right-wing Supreme Court and federal judiciary, more foreign disasters and increasing international isolation, and continuous division, demonization and dehumanization of "the enemy" at home--would be that everything the ruling faction of the Republican Party has done over the last ten years was validated on November 2.
For much more about all that, you can visit any of those well-intentioned, ultimately toxic and pointless websites where liberal preachers will pronounce unto their demoralized choirs. Several of these are linked, for now, from the left column of this page. I'll be taking them down soon, but not quite yet. With one exception which I'll explain below, I have nothing more to say about any of this right now, and I don't imagine I will for the foreseeable future.
I feel like I reached out to the country, to the world as I know it, and was met with the harshest possible repudiation. In the face of this, I see only two possibilities: one, nurse resentment and a sense of grievance, try to rationalize the outcome and perhaps, eventually, find a reason to hope and believe again that our ideals will triumph at some point. I'm sure that's what many of the hundreds of thousands who feel the same way will do, and I don't judge them or blame them for this. It's what I've done in the past myself, after similar disappointments.
The second possibility, the one I find more compelling at the moment, is to re-examine my own character, my system of values (not beliefs, as I state below), and--I think most importantly--the ways I behave. I wanted to find meaning in the world of collective political choices, a reflection and affirmation of the things I hold dear. That world did not accommodate, so perhaps instead I should search for deeper meaning elsewhere.
What does this entail? I don't think it means changing my core beliefs: all those things I wanted to defend by becoming politically active this year still seem entirely worth fighting for. I'm glad that I went to Ohio and tried to make a difference, and I'll always be grateful to my two friends who went with me--it was a unique and deeply worthwhile experience. But rather than reacting emotionally, taking it personally, when the world seems not to share those beliefs, I want to revisit what I care about.
Maybe an analogy will help explain this. I think my eating habits resemble my life writ small: I don't put a great deal of thought into what I eat, the bulk of it isn't very healthy, and while most of it gives me momentary pleasure, it's of little lasting satisfaction, and it doesn't make me happy. I exercise quite often--four or five times a week--but on the whole I'm not pleased with either my body or my physical appearance. In my mind, I've wanted to change this for a long time, but I have never taken effective action.
Much the same is true, I think, of my mental consumption habits. The time I while away watching TV, or playing video games, or aimlessly surfing the Web, or (most pertinent to the question at hand) reading about politics, is not in the end very fulfilling. Much as with my junk food eating, I do these things out of habit and convenience, and I think I make more of them than they are.
This is what I'd like to change. I want to live with more intent--more conscious planning, above all more discipline. I want to spend more time doing truly satisfying things, rather than the activity-equivalents of "empty calories". Perhaaps above all else, I want to prove to myself that I can make these changes--that I have the persistence and strength of character to do it.
In this way, maybe I can wrest something of value from the wreckage of all these hopes. There's something liberating in this despair, a sense of relief--not least that it's simply over--and a glimmer of understanding that, as the world changes in ways that seem dark and tragic, I must change within myself to remain viable in it.
I haven't turned the TV back on since around 1:30 am. I haven't looked at any web sites. A couple colleagues in my office said something about provisional ballots in Ohio and some thin thread of hope involving courts and lawyers--as if that whole system isn't rigged against us anyway. Then, I understand, Kerry conceded sometime this morning.
As mentioned above, this is probably the last time I'll be writing about politics on this page for a long while. The one possible exception, and I don't know if I'll be doing this on AIS or somewhere else, is that I plan to write about my experiences in Cleveland. It was worth setting down, and for those who intend to go in the other direction--trying to figure out how to win this fight--maybe it will have some value for learning.
Otherwise, this blog will probably become something more like a cultural diary. Baseball and football, books, movies and music--things that give me pleasure and satisfaction instead of more impotent pain. I think this is how I can keep some value in this exercise.
Thanks for reading this.