You can help the effort in Georgia senate races by visiting GASenate.com and checking out the Fair Fight Campaign’s website. Nobody believes these are going to be easy races to win, but we’ve seen that change in Georgia is possible.
The title of this post is from a poem by Emily Dickinson. The photo attached is from an article in The New York Times, which (paraphrased) says that Joe Biden’s unsuccessful campaigns have been him running as a politician, while his victory came when he ran as himself.
That’s easy to overlook, when we’re surrounded by cynicism, skepticism, denial, outright lies, political frustration, performative wokeness, anger, and good old-fashioned pessimism. But it’s really huge. For so long I’ve been wondering how can we possibly be expected to move forward when we’re dragged down by so many irredeemably selfish people? But maybe the one and only thing that everyone can agree on — at least, the people worth caring whether they agree or not — is that we should try to be better and try to do the right thing.
I’ve heard the refrain that that’s “a low bar to clear.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but that’s a bar we haven’t been clearing for years, much longer than the current shitshow. Even Obama’s intelligence and respect for the responsibilities of the office were so frequently ignored just because he’s black, by people both evil and well-intentioned. For much longer than 5 years, I’ve been seeing defenses of sleazy or unethical behavior on the part of media, leaders of tech companies, or politicians, that all start with a tepid “At least…”
We’ve seen a ton of inexcusably nasty, baseless personal attacks slung at Biden — and yes, that is one of the rare things that actually has been coming from “both sides”1No, I haven’t forgotten all the Sanders supporters acting like it’s okay to repeat baseless claims of sexual assault if it means some vague promise of Universal Healthcare, thank you very much. — but I’m confident that the majority of us have enough sense to say get out of here with that noise. What’s left is the most basic question: does it actually matter whether the people in power have integrity and decency? So many people have chosen to believe that it doesn’t, as long as they get the policies they want. Often, they call that being “apolitical.” But it’s a lie. The right policies come as a result of having decent people in power.
I do have some sympathy for that mindset. It comes from having your hopes disappointed for so often that you stop even trying to indulge in them, and instead go into purely defensive mode. Defensiveness is what causes the feeling that no politicians are to be trusted, so the best we can hope for is to build systems that make sure our basic rights and even basic safety are protected.
That’s valid, but it’s unsustainable. It’s only been a few hours since I heard that Biden’s victory was finally confirmed, but I already feel like a weight has been lifted. A weight that I’ve been aware of, but never fully appreciated just how heavy it’s been. It comes from not being able to trust anyone who’s been given the power to hurt my life. Trust is the only way to fully rebuild, to keep from being subjected to just a pendulum swing from “left” to “right” every few years.
It feels risky to choose to trust strangers again, but it turns out it’s so much easier than the alternative. It doesn’t mean ignoring all the injustice and ignorance going on in the country, but it does mean finally being able to choose what you feel passionate about. And being confident that the rest is being handled by people who are trying to work in everyone’s best interest. And it requires the humility to believe that even if they’re making decisions that you disagree with very strongly, they’re making those decisions carefully and for what they believe are the best reasons.
I still feel mostly the same way as I did the day after the election, when I realized I wasn’t going to see the massive, undeniable repudiation of the past four years that I’d hoped to see. But there is one thing that I got entirely wrong, and that’s the claim that it was a “close race.” It wasn’t. For the second time, there were millions more people voting for the centrist Democrat candidate than the disgraceful shit-weasel co-opting the election on behalf of the corrupt Republican Party. That, and the unprecedented level of voter turnout, is the repudiation that I should have cared about. Once again, I was guilty of the same thing most of America has been guilty of: caring too much about the apathetic people who value their own comfort over progress, while ignoring the huge number of people who came out and demanded change.
Never, ever forget that the only reason the election seemed close is because our electoral system is broken. In 2016, I saw more than a few extremely shitty people mocking the popular vote as irrelevant. Instead of getting angry, I should’ve just dismissed it as quickly as I do flat-earthers: if you don’t understand how obviously stupid it is to say the popular vote doesn’t matter, then you just don’t get it. It’s over 20 years past time to abolish the electoral college — or at least render it impotent — and to stop just assuming that we’re stuck with it.
Take all the energy of pissed-off Republicans right now, shouting about conspiracies because they voted and their counties and states still went Democrat. And instead of going the usual route of flooding us with “this is a clear sign that the Democrats have failed to connect with the rural population” bullshit, direct that anger instead towards overturning the electoral college. Remind them that the electoral college doesn’t always work in their favor. No, you’re not going to get states like Wyoming on board, but stop worrying about that. Even with a bunch of 18th century slave owners’ thumb on the scales, they still shouldn’t have enough power to overturn a nationwide mandate with enough support.
And the electoral college is just one obvious step. That was another problem with my angry post: it was just venting with nothing actionable. There’s so much to do, to choose to be engaged and actually try and fix things. The most immediate priority is helping the Senate campaigns in Georgia. Even though the “blue state”/”red state” divide is an artificial distinction created by the bullshit electoral college, it’s still been amazing seeing my home state turn blue finally.
Some people 2Petty people on Twitter, who shouldn’t matter but for some reason I can’t ignore completely suggest that white people like me shouldn’t feel “proud” of something that was only accomplished by increased black voter turnout and an increasingly diverse population, but that’s silly. That’s exactly why I’m proud, knowing that more people won’t grow up believing that homogeneity is inevitable and inescapable. I love the idea that maybe more people will be growing up in small towns everywhere will understand that things foreign to them shouldn’t be feared, because they can often be pretty awesome.
The story that we’ve been sold for too long is that Democrats have failed in rural areas because it’s only the Republicans who’ve made an effort to reach out to them. Few people mention that that outreach has been a lie, whipping them up into fear and panic whenever it’s around election time, and then going back to ignoring them.
Which — finally — sums up how I’m choosing to try and move forward. It’s something I’ve been wrestling with for five years now: how do we rebuild without being focused on anger and mistrust, but also without being complicit in an unfair system, and without just falling into the same traps over and over again because people are never made responsible for their choices? I’ve finally realized it’s as simple as this: I want as many decent people as possible, regardless of how they voted, to feel like I do right now. For the first time in years, not quite as worried and afraid. Instead of feeling anger and resentment and suspicion towards the people who’ve disappointed me, I should instead be directing all of that energy into making things better for the people who actually need it.
It’s really simple, in retrospect. (And almost definitely easier said than done). It doesn’t mean sacrificing your integrity, it doesn’t require reconciliation without justice, it doesn’t absolve anyone of their responsibility, and it’s not just a token gesture of “reaching across the aisle.” It simply says that anyone who genuinely wants to help make things better is welcome to come on board, and we’ve already spent far too much time and attention on the people who don’t.