Monday, November 7, 2016

Election tomorrow

Tomorrow, thank God, is election day in the most stunning Presidential election in living memory and perhaps in the history of our country. The news of the first major-party nomination of a woman presidential candidate, remarkable in itself, has been utterly overshadowed by her opponent, the U.S.'s first brush with an unfettered demagogue contemptuous of U.S. democratic law and norms, mocker of the disabled, women, minorities, prisoners of war and fallen soldiers, coming within a hair's-breadth of power. Adding to the spectacle and the terror,  Brexit occurred in the midst of this, harbinger of the real possibility that the unthinkable could occur here too in a world where the average citizen has been effectively disenfranchised for far too long and may lash out with the wrecking ball at hand.

We face tomorrow hopeful but with the knowledge it could go either way. If the election goes the way I hope, in which a moderate, center-left lawyer, former senator and former Secretary of State wins the prize, I believe we should do the following:

First, take a moment to celebrate. This will be a victory. The apocalypse will have been thwarted. Instead of living in constant dread, we ought to have at least moment of high spirits before we get back to work. Yes, the monster is still there and Clinton will be ruthlessly opposed, but yet she will have power: the power of executive appointments, the power of the Presidential pulpit, the power to set the tone in the executive branch, the power in hundreds of subtle way to influence federal departments to head in directions that are pro-people. She will have the power to propose a budget and a legislative agenda. And if the worst happens and she can't get a Supreme Court nominee through, at least her presence will have blocked whatever the Republicans would have put forth.

Second, fight back against the rhetoric that government is fundamentally bad, fundamentally evil, inherently some hybrid of the "beast" in Revelation and Stalinist "socialism." Every time I go past the poster on the Young Republican bulletin board at a college where I teach, I feel a rise of anger at the poster that reads "Taxation is Theft," (a "gotcha" variation on the old socialist slogan "property is theft") not simply because I disagree (I do disagree, but can tolerate disagreement) but because it seems to me an unchallenged lie: in fact, not paying taxes is theft of the worst sort, theft from your country. We need to fight back against the notion that "government is the problem." In fact, to sober minds, sound government is a good and a gift.

In that vein, I like a wording, that could become a slogan, that I have been hearing more: whenever basic government spending is attacked, such as on education, roads, libraries, health care, as "socialism," people are saying: "It's civilization, not socialism."

Government spending long predates socialism.
"Government spending is civilization not socialism."
It is what civilized nations do.

After celebrating an election (I hope) and standing up for government as civilization, the third step will be keeping our eyes open.

First, we know the crazed elements in this country will not stop their ruthless, relentless campaign to undermine all progress. Moreover, we know that probably about 40% of voters will vote for Trump. He may go away, but, sadly, we have to expect another demagogue to follow.  The election has laid bare to what extent Trump is nothing new: he is a type well-known to Europeans, well understood by great writers. There's a surfeit of parallels, a huge body of literature to describe a person like him. We have been fortunate so far in this country not to have let his likes grab ultimate power, but his type is out there. The next one is likely to learn from Trump's mistakes and successes and thus be even more dangerous.

Second, as I think about the parallels between Clinton and Jane Austen's Fanny Price, while we sympathize with their sufferings, their intelligence, the way they both succeed because of what they learn from the unfairness and cruelty with which they have been treated in their privileged spheres, we don't, in either case, know the end of the story. Will Fanny and Clinton, even with hearts in the right place,  ameliorate and challenge the worst effects of the system or reinforce the system? That's the open question: we will need to keep the pressure on Clinton so that she stays true, as far as she can, to her progressive promises.

Perhaps in two days we will wake up and this blog will be so much dust in the wind. In the meantime, I remain optimistic.


  1. As you write, we, old European countries and citizens, are used to people like Donald Trump. We are also used to people like Hilary Clinton who make campaign promises they never hold afterwards. See our current French President. I think we are greater cynics than you and that we tend not to believe too much in rejoicing. We are more and more enduring our "powers" and trying to live (some of us at least) a parallel life, disconnected from politics as far as we can.
    Be careful and watchful, Young America !

  2. Very good, Diane; in fact, you achieved just the right tone.

    I am more pessimistic in my blog that I felt compelled to write, but I also lay out a "plan" for voting that might help lead to change back from debacle and calamity. There is so much that needs change that the US gov't and a given president has no purchase over. I watched LeCarre's A Most Wanted Man last night about the complete erosion of any regard whatsoever for civil and political rights in the agencies supposedly protected them.

    If you will permit this, your dignified tone and use of generality shows your years of good journalism. I seem unable to edit out the personal.


  3. Camille,
    I can only imagine in Europe sober minded people are far more cynical, having borne the brunt of insanity in the last century. It is good to be reminded of what may not happen. However, I still would like to celebrate (for a day) if sanity prevails. :)

  4. Ellen,
    Thank you for your kind comment. A Most Wanted Man, one of the few le Carres I have read, is prescient ...

  5. Ellen,
    Thank you for your kind comment. A Most Wanted Man, one of the few le Carres I have read, is prescient ...

  6. Trump won! I can't imagine how you all feel. I'm Canadian and I'm devastated. This is a black day for women and for the world. I couldn't help but cry. The nightmare begins.

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