On the Eve of an Apocalyptic Election

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.  

3 Replies to “On the Eve of an Apocalyptic Election”

  1. Very well said, we are the mortally wounded staggering Beast with sharp claws and teeth lashing out at any who dare to look sideways at us including our fellow citizens. We have lost our way. When you start out to make stew with spoiled meat no matter how fresh and crisp all the other ingredients are; the stew in the end is not of acceptable savoir. Alexander Humboldt suggested to Thomas Jefferson who was President at the time to put an end to slavery in The United States because he claimed it evil and would bring this nation with such an incredible document as our Constitution to it’s knees if allowed to prevail. Jefferson did nothing, our Civil War rocked our Nation but in the end the South was allowed to replace slavery with Jim Crow. As Jim Crow began to be eroded by the Civil Rights movement we came up with the New Jim Crow (mass incardination, Red Lining, Welfare) and finally our Malesic President who has stirred our racial pot only to bring to the surface who we really are as a Nation. We missed the boat!

  2. Your posts are always thought-compelling, Michelle! I am grateful to you for speaking and writing them. We are so fortunate to have you in our community!

  3. Very well put.

    The fatalist in me says, in relation to your daughter’s question, that at personal and national level we all carry our demons, and our demons, curse them, will have their say.

    A slightly less fatalist voice says there have been valuable learnings in the Trump Trauma. Among them: things are not how they seem to be and we, the civilados, may not be who we like to think we are.

    And peeping out from the shadows, my (tiny but strangely resilient) optimist says no matter how today’s watershed plays out, the whole horrible thing – like its ulcer-inducing equivalents around the world – is shoving some of our more privileged, self-centered societies towards an honest reckoning of where we’re at and where we need to head. A much-needed reckoning.

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