Today was a gorgeous, disquietingly warm day in early November. New York’s trees had a soft-lensed sunlight (Like God had just finished his second semester of film school) to work with as they staged their climactic scenes of swooning, poetic decay. Say this for autumn: it has perfected the art of dying. It makes it seem lovely and painless. It’s enough to make you believe death can be an aesthetic ideal to look forward to.
It was also, in my area anyway, oddly quiet.
Aw, This Feels Like It’s Going to Be a Gentle, Reflective Post. Nice. Although This Death Metaphor Feels Worrisome.
This site is meant to be a space dedicated, in one form or another, to the freedom of expression. That’s a beautiful idea for a glorious concept: freedom of expression, thought, passion. I’ve taken that freedom for granted all my life. But this weekend, watching the leaves cascade to the ground as nature closes its final chapter before winter and staring down the barrel of what may well be the most consequential American election in at least a century, taking such freedoms for granted feels obscene. Because the election of November 8th, 2022, is all but assured to be a tragedy, regardless of the vote totals.
Let me explain what I mean by this. If one side wins, to be specific, the side that’s upfront about repurposing state legislatures into de facto rubber stamps for their party, the notion of democratic elections with integrity will die off to a potentially lethal degree. This party’s nominee for governor in Wisconsin, for example, has told supporters at rallies more than once that if he’s elected, he will guarantee his party will never lose another election in that state.
In way, he’s a breath of fresh air: why even pretend to care about democracy? Politics in America (and in countries such as Hungary, Italy, Turkey, Poland, and a growing number of others) has metastasized into a gleefully naked power grab, in which the basic assumptions that make democracies function have been replaced by an electoral mosh pit, a zero sum game in which the sole object is the accretion of power.
This endless hunger to control the levers of government is not born from a desire to further any political aims. Yes, there are, of course, tribal shibboleths leaders pay fiery lip service to. These grievances dressed up as policies are usually based on cultural divisions and a relentless othering of those in different demographics. But those at the top of this toxic food chain, with a few exceptions, are merely parroting these policies because they are the easiest means to their ends.
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And the crueler the means of grabbing this power, the better. Many in the OTHER party insists on dissipating its energies on shock at the other party’s vigorous cruelty; they refuse to accept the fact that the cruelty is the entire point. All the better to dismiss your adversaries – no, enemies – views as stupid, weak, and dangerous.
Seriously, Jack, Maybe Stop Watching The Handmaid’s Tale For a Few Weeks.
But OK, wait a minute. I’m acting like the results of this election are a given. They’re not. In fact, in many places, things could break the way of the other party. So maybe I should take a freaking Yoga class and chill out.
But that’s the thing. If the election does break the way of the second party, the first party has already said they won’t accept those results. They’re not even waiting until the votes are tallied. The only way the election can be legitimate, they and their acolytes maintain, is if they win. A loss isn’t a loss: it’s proof of fraud. In this way, they have inoculated themselves against any of the pernicious pitfalls that normally attend democratic elections, like the chance your side might lose.
Democracy can only operate under the implicit assumption that we know we can’t always get our way, that we will have to at least to try to find common ground. But for all too many people on both sides of the political spectrum view common ground as a fetid swamp. Compromise is surrendering to evil, because the systematic othering of our political adversaries makes opposing viewpoints not just disagreeable. They are, in fact, moral abominations. To try to meet people half way, therefore, is to enable the other side’s unmitigated evil.
Surely, This is Where I Find the Silver Lining, Right?
I have an audio play coming out next week (have I mentioned that yet? I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned that I have an audio play dropping on all podcast platforms for free on November 9th called Step 9, produced by New Normal Rep. I probably should mention it more to cover my bases). In it, a character remarks that her brain has become, “An endless hall of broken mirrors.” This is how I feel when I look at the days ahead for many of the democracies in the West.
OK, Obviously That Wasn’t the Silver Lining Part. But I’m About to Quote Lincoln. And That’s Gotta Be the Uplifting Conclusion We’ve Stuck It Out This Far For.
Years before the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln once pondered what could bring about the end of the American Experiment. He mused:
“From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia…could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide.”
Et Tu, Abe? OK, I’ll Give It A Crack
For all of my talk earlier of how one party has turned the democratic process into a Catch-22 (If we win, it’s fair. This is proven by the fact we won; if we lose, it’s unfair, proven by the fact that we lost), it’s not like America, to say nothing of Europe, hasn’t faced grim political atmospheres before.
We’ve all had our share of seemingly intractable conflicts which ultimately, often after years and much blood, sweat, and tears have been shed, have ended on the side of the angels. Or at least the non-devils.
We’ve found a way to pull the forces of freedom off of the ledge of despotism. So the national “suicide” Lincoln spoke of isn’t inevitable.
But looking at the ever-thickening carpet of pretty, dead leaves piling all around me today, and sitting in the day’s quiet, the fall feels already here.
What are your thoughts?
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