I hate election years. HATE.
I hate how it sorts and divides everyone. I hate how I hate people I ordinarily love and respect for having such WRONG headed opinions. I have opinions too. Strong opinions that I wish I didn’t have to defend. They seem like common sense to me. Perhaps that’s how the people I disagree with feel as well. How shocking to stand face to face with such a chasm between us. Does it make you dizzy as well? Does it give you the same sense of spiritual vertigo with those who you thought you knew better?
Even as I sit in Starbucks typing this, I feel a little sick to my stomach listening to the two men sitting at the next table, loudly and publicly wishing our state capitol would disappear in a giant sinkhole. Not a bombing, mind you. A horrific natural disaster “like Santorini”. This, they are saying, “Would be a start.”
Listen, I won’t try and convince you that I’m right. It takes too much energy and honestly, I don’t even know what “right” looks like anymore. I’m far more familiar with wrong. Sinkholes are not a solution, for example.
I’ve lost a fair portion of my idealism in recent years and I have the sneaking suspicion that nobody is listening anyways.
I try. I try to listen. But whenever I do, I hear loopholes. Deliberately vague doubletalk and manipulatively bombastic exaggeration. From both sides. My blood pressure rises and the arguments cycle. The pundits pun, the experts predict and the spinners spin. Reality takes on the headache inducing qualities of a cheap science fiction flashback. Mirrored beads on a chain – there is a flash of something I recognize here and there, along with some blinding lights. What just happened here? Does anyone really know?
I’m disgusted, disoriented, and slightly nauseous. “The facts!” I hear. The malleable facts.
My kids have come home from school very dejected of late. They may hate campaign years even more than I do. They feel bullied by peers with opposing political views from our family’s. They are afraid to say which candidate they back. There has been backlash with enough vitriole to brings tears to their eyes.
This shocks me, and it doesn’t. Also it challenges me. How can I explain to my son that his friends aren’t bad? He’s a peaceful and reasonable sort. He doesn’t want to be president when he grows up anymore. Because it seems like a terrible job to him, no matter which candidate you back. How can I assure him that his sense of social vertigo over the election isn’t the end of his friendships, any more than it will be the end of mine. We’ll all heal, eventually and find our way back to solid ground. At least I hope so.
It’s tough to explain what’s in my head. In my head it’s less about the parties and more about psychology.
“People vote for “us”, or against “them”,” I tell my son. “But sometimes they kinda vote for some of us, just not “them”.”
“Personally I like the people who vote for us, all of us, best. No matter who they vote for*,”I tell him.
He looks confused. It is confusing.
“We’re hearing a lot more about “them” in this election than I have noticed in past years, ” I try to explain.
How can I explain to him how we’ve become a country that responds to threat and menace. On the evening news, in reality tv, on the big screen and in the voting booths too. Both parties are trying to modify that message, but I’m not sure how successful it is. Behind closed doors we get the true story of paranoid self interest, and fear, from both sides.
“Look out for “them!” That is the election year message his 3rd grade classmates are bringing to school.
“You can’t let people’s self interested-ness get to you,” I counsel. “Not everyone has a broad view of what “us” means.”
“So who are you voting for, Mommy?”
“I’m voting for the world the way I’d like it to be,” I tell him. “Most of your friends probably are too, even if they aren’t voting for the same candidate as me. You have to try and remember that we want the same thing.”
It’s a bitter pill for me to swallow too, I’ll admit.
“Can we come with you to vote Mommy?” my son asked me this morning. He really wants to be there. He feels like he has to stand up for me, with me.
“Sure honey,” I tell him.
I know why he wants to come vote with me. He wants the refreshments afterward. He wants everyone to get back to the business of building community, instead of the name calling and fighting over it. He wants the world to be a better place.
I’m going to vote for my kids, and for yours too. I, haven’t had it so rough, on a global scale, and yet, I want them to have a better life than I have. I’m going to vote for my parents who lived through the depression, World War Two and all the wars that have followed and managed to stay idealistic all that while. They’ve worked hard for me to have a better life than them, and I’m not sure that will ever happen, but damn if I won’t keep trying.
Ultimately we want the same things. At least I hope we do.
*There should be a Venn diagram for this “us”/”them” thing. Or maybe a bumper sticker. So we can tell how many of “us” are included in a vote, and how many of “them” aren’t.