Having already voted by mail in our tiny, over-whelmingly blue state, we wait, with bated breath and knotted stomachs, for the results.
The results of Tuesday’s elections for the US president will have far-reaching impacts – around the globe and on our individual lives. The results of the Bush v. Gore election, for instance, led to wars which called my daughter’s father, a helicopter mechanic for the Army National Guard, away to long deployments on military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, and contributed, I think, to his early death. On a larger scale, the results of that millennial election meant that the US did not exercise its potential for global leadership towards lowering greenhouse gas emissions and reducing pollution, as might have happened under Gore. It is my daughter’s generation that will feel the impact of that election acutely.
It seems unfair, as usual, that an election with such global significance should be decided only by the citizens of the US. We are not representative, and are in fact, if anything aberrations, even among the nations with the most “advanced,” i.e. most ruthlessly extractive, economies. We Americans are like coddled upper class children living in a bubble and as a result are fragile, anxious, and defensive of our way of life. We have been insulated by our national wealth and power, by our history and by our very geography. We have built a world-conquering economic and military machine and now we are quite literally trapped in it by COVID travel restrictions. But even if we could leave the US physically we are trapped in a mindset – an American ideology – that is reinforced by the physical trappings and social norms of our exceptionally wasteful, hyper-competitive, growth-worshipping way of life.
To be clear, what is at stake in Tuesday’s election is a choice between the malefic effects of American exceptionalism taken to a dysfunctional extreme, and a more reasonable expression of that same questionable exceptionalism. There are people who have made the argument that the more extreme version better represents the true heart and soul of the US. There is something to that perhaps, as well as to the argument that we Americans have got the president that we deserve. May we deserve better, for our sakes and for the sake of all life on this planet.
And yet even if Biden wins, and even if it is so overwhelming a win that the Republican litigation of the election will be muted, still we will have a country wracked by debilitating division and suspicion. There will be gun attacks on random targets. There will be political obstruction based purely on party identification. We will still be haunted by the violence of our history – especially by the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of black Americans, but also by the contemporary systems that exacerbate inequality for everyone except the most wealthy. We will still be faced with the underlying trouble of an extractive economic engine – with all the ideology that fuels and supports that engine – meeting material and ecological limits. That trouble is implicit in the election but goes far beyond it.
Either way, whoever wins this week and however chaotic the process becomes, we will have to go on with our daily lives, keeping our small worlds going, caring for the very specific and material conditions that we have taken up as our realm of responsibility. One choice will make it slightly more likely that we can face the Big Trouble in a more positive, efficacious way. Don’t get me wrong, I am not being cynical: slight differences make all the difference. The slight differences we can make in our communities, in the way we think about our relationship to the land and sea, and to each other, make all the difference as well.
One of the wonderful thing about conversations with young people is they often ask questions that may be simply asking for information but which are, because they are in some sense innocent, hard to answer. My daughter asked the other day: without the pandemic Trump would have had pretty good chance of being re-elected, why is that the case? Why doesn’t the left – and by the left, I mean the politics of equal opportunity and environmental responsibility – have a more appealing case to make? I don’t have an answer for that, but it is worth pondering…whoever wins.