It is more than a bit after sunset on Monday, the evening before the 2016 US presidential election. Early voting has been open in my jurisdiction for a week or so, I think; I will be heading to the polls tomorrow morning to cast my ballot. As I do.
I’ve been a compulsive voter since I turned eighteen in between the Louisiana gubernatorial open primary and the run-off general election – the one that pitted the multiply-indicted (but not yet convicted) wheelin’ dealin’ slick Southern playboy Edwin “Fast Eddie” Edwards (D) against the then-unknown David Duke, Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (R). The Louisiana Republican party distributed bumper stickers that read, “Vote for the Crook. It’s Important.”
I swear I am not making this up.
Forgive me if I have never been heavily invested in electoral politics.
When you start there, it’s really hard to get fussed up about these things.
My lack of angst should in no case be misread for a lack of attention or of interest.
I write from my own location as a voting citizen and definitely NOT as a representative of any 501c3 organization when I declare that one of the major-party candidates is a pragmatic politician entrenched in a deeply flawed political system and the other one is a radioactive landfill fire creeping toward the national water supply. There is to me no question left of lofty idealism and protest voting. Some times you vote your conscience in the first round and then when it comes down to the general election you suck in a deep breath and pull the lever or mash the button or pencil in the scan sheet for the least bad plausible outcome.
But do what you want. It’s your vote.
Whoever is elected president tomorrow, whether or not we, America, do successfully elect a president tomorrow – remember 2000, folks? – whatever the outcomes in all the races in all the jurisdictions in the nation, remember that on Wednesday morning, and each of the mornings after that, two things will be true:
The sun will come up in the east; and,
We will still all be in this together.
I mean the big “We.” The “We” that sometimes gets followed by “the People” in patriotic speeches and means ever so many of us more than even I like to think about. I mean the big, BIG “We.” The universalist “We.” All of us.
Yes, dear God, even those people. We – however we define ourselves, whatever boundaries we set – are in this with them, and they are in this with us, too. They are “us.”
I am not a saint. I do not want to be “in this” with some of us, either. I too am fed up with the unresponsiveness of this unwieldy, unbalanced political system to the genuine needs of people at the margins – a system which intentionally feeds the anxiety of people who feel encroaching powerlessness, manipulating them into “fake fights” that foster the concentration of economic, political and cultural power in the hands of those pulling the strings.
For a generation now, maybe two, we have collectively been taught to mistrust and disbelieve one another, divided along lines of race, gender, class, age, and all their intersections – and we have been taught not to trust systems either, not “the government” or “the media” or “the corporations.”
Have we then forgotten how to trust at all? It seems possible.
It seems… likely.
What then is the most powerful, most radical thing that any of us can do in the weeks to come?
Not naively. Not uncritically. I hate to quote Ronald Reagan on anything under the circumstances, but I keenly remember his late cold-war admonition in response to a question about the Soviet Union’s trustworthiness on nuclear arms control: Trust, but verify.
In order to trust, you must first be trustworthy. Be mostly honest most of the time, at least about the important things, and expect the same from the people you deal with.
Sometimes you will be wrong. Sometimes you will be wrong about the situation, sometimes you will be wrong about the people you are dealing with, sometimes you will both be wrong.
That’s where the verify comes in: that expectation of a ground rule whereby all parties to a conflict take on some of the risk. I will take my hand off the big red button, and I am watching you take your hand off the other big red button, and then we will both set our hands on the surface of the table where we can both see them.
And then, perhaps, we will look at each other’s faces, look into each other’s eyes, and talk about what we are afraid of.
Fear is the power that constrains us all – fear of being killed by the cops, fear of being groped on the subway, fear of punishment, fear of hunger, fear of authority, fear of scarcity, fear of loss, fear of death, fear of the shame of our own smallness and individual impotence in a world – this world – where nothing is certain any more, if it ever was.
Cultivating trust erodes the power of fear – between individuals, between groups, between nations. It starts small. It starts with us.
It starts when “each of us” begins to become “all of us.”
Beloved community… Tear down these walls.