Submitted by Aaron Arkin.
“In America, anyone can become president. That’s one of the risks you take” (Adlai Stevenson, 1952 & 1956 Democratic candidate for president).
” . . . ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have” (James Baldwin – American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist).
I’m starting this reply to your letter three days before the election. I share your trepidation as to the outcome. That so many people in this country support such a broken person says there is something basic and terribly wrong in our country. I used to rationalize this as a failure of education: failure to attain critical thinking facility and failure to attain knowledge of civics and history. But lately I’ve come to think it’s more than that: many of us are just overwhelmed by the sheer complexity and changeability of the world we have created, and so seek solutions and look to world views that appeal to simplicity, single issues, short-term interests, bias and anger. In talking to my sister about this, she thinks it has something to do with tribal affiliation: the need to belong encourages people to put on blinders and filter out anything that might challenge their membership in the group with which they identify.
No matter what the causal factors, many people’s views and positions have hardened over the political divide and won’t automatically change because of this election. Sometimes, I have an imaginary argument with someone with these fixed narratives. In the end I’m discouraged because I conclude no amount of factual information or explanation of bias, distorted personal narrative or cognitive dissonance, will change minds. Occasionally I come across an interview with a person (in real life) who has changed his/her world-view narrative. When that happens, it’s often because of some epiphany, not a result of convincing argument made by others. Still, the optimistic takeaway should be that people can and do change, and that the passage of time can create wonders.
One of our erroneous fixed narratives is that America can ‘go it alone’. Historically, we have been lucky by virtue of geography: big oceans between us Europe and Asia, and friendly countries on both our borders. For many this has reinforced a belief in an “American Exceptionalism” which is not fully deserved but which feeds the mindset of those arguing for “Make America Great Again.” Instead, we should acknowledge that long-term alliances with other democracies have bolstered our security. In modern times, geography is less a constraint against dangers from without, and since Trump has shown the United States will not live up to its treaty obligations, he is isolating us from our allies who may never trust us again no matter the outcome of this election. His approach weakens us, puts us at a disadvantage economically, and removes us from the table where the big issues of climate change, international trade rules, and human rights standards are being hashed out. Going alone weakens our security and if Trump remains in office, we would be under an increasing existential threat.
By the time I plan to finish this letter, we will be past the election. And, from what I’m reading from news analysts, students of history, psychologist and political scientists, Trump, if he loses, will refuse to concede, and his minions will try to get votes invalidated and/or get Republican State Legislators to substitute sympathetic electors, all of which will lead to civic unrest and may even create a constitutional crisis. Historically, in times of crisis great leaders supported by the public at large have arisen to shepherd us though. The ‘balance of power’ enshrined in our constitution has also helped keep us on the rails. But this balance is now at risk of failing because of Trump enablers, a complicit Senate, and weakened institutions, and may fail even further with an ideologically extreme Supreme Court. With no real safeguards against an unrestrained, and possibly unhinged president, the interregnum will be the most fraught time of his presidency. I doubt Adlai could have imagined any of this; but I think Baldwin could.
OK, I’ll stop here and finish this letter after the results of the election.
Today is early on November 4th. The election is still too close to call and many ballots are still outstanding. Trump is declaring victory and fraud simultaneously and without evidence and, as predicted, vowing to take his fight to the Supreme Court. He is encouraging his supporters to take to the streets and some of them have shown up armed at ballot-counting locations. The “Blue Wave” has not materialized, Democrats are losing some seats in the House, and it looks like Republicans may retain control of the Senate. It may be several more days before we have a final vote tally, and even then there are bound to be legal actions and demands for recounts.
It’s now November 7th and we have a projected winner. My gut and everything I read from trusted sources tells me this alone will not heal us as a nation. Recounts and court challenges still need to play out. But if today’s results hold, this election will have shown that the demographics of our country are changing, and with it political power is moving away from older, established constituencies to newer, younger and more diverse groups. Much difficult work lies ahead. But, if this process proceeds peacefully and with tolerance for differences of opinion, we may yet preserve the American experiment in democracy. Let’s hope for the best.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.