It gets harder every day to read about our president. For me, he’s an embarrassment. I hope that’s the worst of it. He may get some of his cruel budget and health care cuts approved, but we can recover from that if the electorate decides it has had enough. He undoubtedly will set back our global relationships with our most important allies. But we can recover from that too. It is possible that he will swagger into a shooting match with North Korea. That would be bad, possibly very bad. Recovering from a nuclear exchange of any kind would be difficult.
Still, I’m hopeful. Partly it’s just my nature to be optimistic. “Someone to love, something to do, something to look forward to.” The three keys to happiness. It’s hard to have number three—something to look forward to—if you're not optimistic.
I’m happy. I have all three ingredients. It’s hard to imagine the apocalypse, so I don’t.
But I will say this: I am alarmed by the way so many of us in America, the land of freedom and opportunity, the beacon of democracy, exercise our right to be part of setting the direction of the country. I know some people are bitter that globalization has left them behind. I know some people are disdainful, and afraid, of the cultural changes they see creeping up on them like slowly rising flood waters. I know many men still think a woman’s place is in the kitchen. Some women too.
But the great thing about our country has always been the promise of freedom of choice. Chose your religion; the government won’t interfere. Chose your partner. Chose whether and when to have a child. Well, I thought we had put that one to bed, but we haven’t. All I have to say on that subject is that if you believe abortion is immoral, as many do, you must also believe that those children you insist be born should have every possible guarantee of food, health care and education.
I grew up in the Deep South. I’ve seen the fire-and-brimstone pulpit from up close. I’ve seen the burning crosses. I grew up around all that, but it was like poison ivy in the woods: as long as I didn’t get too close, it didn’t blister and itch.
Now, somehow, the poison ivy seems to have come for me. Its spores are airborne. There is no avoiding it. They are blown across the land by the hot wind of the very institution we treasure most: democracy.
It’s hard to know what people are thinking when they vote. I suspect that like most judgements we make, it’s complicated. I’m willing to acknowledge and indulge that complexity. It’s part of the deal if we really mean to have a society in which everyone gets an equal vote. It used to be just land-owning men who had that power. Now it’s everyone.
The land-owning men of voting rights past used their franchise to protect their interests. Now that we all can vote, we should be doing the same thing, that is voting for policies and men and women we think will do what’s best for us. We shouldn’t use the right to vote, which so much blood has been shed to preserve, as a means of popping off. It’s not a place to register frustration. It’s not a place for snark. It’s not a wise-ass remark at a cocktail party or a barbecue.
If we want to protect our great democracy, we have to respect it. We have to go to some trouble for it. We have to think about what we are voting for and why. I’m not saying this just because I’m not partial to the latest election results. I’m willing to listen. But the more I read about why some people voted the way they did, and their shock that, for instance, they are now in danger of losing their health care and safety net supports, the more I wonder if they were being thoughtful when they voted, or just blowing off steam.
It’s easy to get frustrated. It’s easy to say, “Screw the bastards.” But that doesn’t get us anywhere. We have to keep our cool. If we want the old jalopy we call democracy to keep running, we have to take care of it. We have to give at least as much thought to the consequences of how we cast our votes as we do to the kind of oil we put in our cars. If we don’t, in both cases, the engine will freeze up.