10 Simple Facts To Make You Feel Better About This Election
The moment you saw this article was about the election, did you find yourself tensing up, ready to scour it for a sentence you disagree with? If so, you may be suffering from a disease known as Election Fever, though you probably don't have it as bad as I do -- I think I've now muted everyone on Facebook but the ads. Just yesterday I spent an hour getting mad at the comments on this article about Syrian refugees accidentally getting booked at a hotel during a furry convention.
The shitstorm is only going to get worse, so to prevent all of us from having a rage stroke between now and November, I decided to make a quick guide to help center us during these turdulent times. Simply take a moment to remember ...
Fear Makes You Dumb
Here's some life-changing advice my grandmother once whispered to me at a birthday party: "You must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration," she said, while sewing the same phrase into a cross-stitch. "And remember that he who controls the spice controls the universe."
Good old Grandma.
As I'm sure I've mentioned before, the key is not to confuse "Fear clouds your thoughts" with "The world is free from danger." The world is dangerous as shit! But fear shuts down the rational-thinking part of your brain, and these problems need rational thought, goddammit.
And here's the other thing I wish every human could get tattooed on their forearm at birth: "Fear makes you easy to manipulate, and every powerful person knows this."
You need that way more than yet another naked lady draped in a "Don't Tread On Me" banner.
Therefore, be skeptical of the guy constantly bringing you warnings of impending doom. The salesman and the doomsday prophet are both selling you something; they're just blowing different flavors of smoke up your ass.
Elections Are What We Have Instead Of War
You can usually break panic with context. Well, here's the context for the situation we're in today:
For most of human history, when somebody in the tribe decided they wanted to be chief, the "election" involved him bashing the current chief's skull in with a fucking rock. The chief was always just whoever was best at doing that. In much of the world, leaders are still chosen this way, only with more sophisticated weapons and/or the ability to brainwash uneducated people into dying for the upstart's cause.
Where "campaign finance reform" means spending more money on rocket launchers
aimed directly at your opponent's face.
So in nearly all times and places on Earth, you knew when a change in power had occurred by the amount of blood and brain matter on the pavement. The new regime would spend years rounding up and imprisoning anyone who supported the old regime -- citizens had to be really fast at scraping off a bumper sticker. Peaceful power transitions are a recent invention, found only in one species on all of planet Earth.
So yes, elections are full of lies and insults and cowardly backstabbing. But the next transition of power -- even if the new president is a proverbial sack of rats chewing on a severed human butt -- will be peaceful. And that is a miracle.
Yes, America Is On The Verge Of Violent Collapse (As Usual)
This is my favorite Twitter joke of all time:
It's a nice reminder that what looks like the apocalypse is simply the latest in a series of cyclical events that each look apocalyptic from the inside. "Americans are more polarized than ever!" says the pundit. "What happened to the unified nation I grew up with? Sure, we had our differences, but we all believed in America!"
Great question. Let's climb into my time machine to go pinpoint when exactly things went wrong. Where do I set the dial to find this nation of good-hearted patriots? Was it the 1960s, when protesters filled the streets and were gunned down by the military? When an actual riot broke out at the Democratic National Convention and a sitting president got his fucking head blown off?
Thirty-five years later, our worst problem was a sitting president getting fucking blown. Progress!
Not far enough back, you say? How about the glorious post-war years, when black people weren't allowed to even be in the same movie theater as whites, and any career could be ruined by a single accusation of communism? Or was it earlier than that, when women weren't allowed to vote or have careers? Or when the Civil War left 800,000 butchered corpses scattered across the landscape? Or when black people were legally considered cattle?
Unless ... now bear with me, but is it possible you just looked at 2016 America and said, "There's no way it's always been this bad! The system would have fallen apart by now!" without actually checking to see if that statement is true? Because yeah, I think it's kind of always looked like this. Or, you know, worse.
They're Your Neighbors, Not Monsters
America is always on the verge of falling apart, because it began as a loose collection of colonies settled by starkly different cultures and ethnic groups, along with slaves and migrant labor from all over, with some land seized from Mexico thrown in. We call it a "melting pot," but you shouldn't be thinking fondue here -- you should be picturing a shower of angry sparks spraying out of a roaring blast furnace.
Most apropos when forged from the wreckage of thousands
of terror-induced murders.
The values of someone who grew up in Mississippi will probably be downright repulsive to someone who grew up in San Francisco and vice-versa. It would be weird if they weren't. They will therefore feel bitter hatred for one another, but note that it's not personal hatred -- just an abstract sense that the other guys are Part Of The Problem.
Those people lining up to vote for [insert candidate you're most scared of] would, in the vast majority of cases, call for help if they saw you wounded in the street. Some of the ones with the most ignorant slogans on their T-shirts would dive into freezing water to save you from drowning. They're your neighbors, your co-workers, your customers. In the last month, one of them has probably offered you their spot in line at the grocery store and struck up a pleasant conversation about sports in the waiting room at the dentist.
"I can't wait to see the wall ... when I visit Fenway next month."
"But," you say, "if they vote for [scary candidate], people will die! My life will be measurably worse! The time for being polite is over!"
No. Listen to me: Lives are at stake in every election. The next president will decide what wars we get into, what health coverage gets cut, what safety regulations can be repealed, how strongly we're protected from terrorists. Democracy is entirely about making the transition of power an orderly and peaceful event despite the fact that lives are at stake. That's what it's been about from the beginning.
And again, the reason I'm asking you to refrain from fearing/hating them isn't because they don't deserve it (I don't think they do, but that's irrelevant to my point); I'm saying that fear is the mind-killer, and anger is the mind's crystal meth. Fearing/hating someone shifts your brain into a fight-or-flight mode that draws blood away from the part that makes you human. Your IQ drops by 30 points. Your ears become deaf to criticism and your eyes blind to nuance.
Remember, the ignorant people you fear are being ignorant because they fear you and fear is the freaking mind-killer. Are you scared that a President Trump will start rounding up and persecuting innocent people? Well, conservatives said the same thing would happen under Obama.
Yes, The System Is Run By Wealthy Elites (And Always Has Been)
My grandmother coined another saying years ago: "In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then, when you get the money, you get the power. Then, when you get the power, you get the women."
Good old Grandma.
I think most voters would agree with her and insist that the American political system has been "hijacked" by the wealthy. Well, we're going to hop into my time machine again, and this time you're going to take me to an era prior to said hijacking.
The problem is that, unless the history books are wrong, we'll find that America's founding fathers were, for the most part, from wealthy families. By 1829, Andrew Jackson had made it an unspoken policy to reward large donors with government positions -- here's a political cartoon depicting Jackson riding a pig covered in dollar signs:
By 1883, you had political cartoons depicting all of American society propping up a few billionaires:
A then-4-year-old Bernie Sanders sees this and is inspired.
One 1885 Senate race was between a guy worth $500 million in today's money and a dude worth $1.3 billion. I'm not saying you should be OK with that; I'm just trying to give you context. The rich didn't hijack this flight -- they're the pilots, and also they own the airline. They have always acted on their own agenda while trying to convince the rest of us it was our idea (you know the majority of the colonists had no desire to go to war with Great Britain, right?).
They were perfectly content with their king, their tea, and their cartoonishly large heads.
But despite that, somehow, life has still gotten much better over the centuries. We have, in defiance of those wealthy elites, managed to free the slaves, abolish child labor, improve workplace safety, introduce a minimum wage, create labor unions, cut pollution, and push through thousands of other little improvements for the common working folk.
It's a brutal, unending battle, but one we do often win. You should be proud of that! It's pretty impressive when you think about it. But that just brings us to ...
Yes, The Voters Are Ignorant (Including You)
Most of us aren't voting for a candidate; we're voting against one. You're absolutely right that the candidate you fear/hate is, in fact, full of shit. But so is yours. This is by necessity.
No citizen has the time or energy to learn the complexities of every single issue -- you can spend your entire life studying just international trade agreements and die knowing you never fully grasped that subject.
Seriously, you could barely follow that Trade Federation bullshit in the prequels.
So, candidates intentionally present cartoonishly oversimplified versions of their policies that completely omit the downsides and ignore any possible upsides of their opponents'.
"Fracking" is an environmental disaster and must be banned, but also has helped drastically cut greenhouse emissions, because all that cheap natural gas has replaced the much dirtier coal. Obamacare gave insurance to 17 million people and also made premiums go up. A $15 minimum wage nationwide would be great for some people and disastrous for others. And presidents of all stripes love going to war -- Democrats gave us Korea and Vietnam, Republicans the Middle East and Afghanistan, and in each and every case, proponents can explain at length why their decision saved countless lives.
Now, how many of you have already abandoned the article to go explain why something in the above paragraph is wrong? It's like scratching an itch, right? This is why it works -- you can look at "the other side" and point out how dumb they are and you'll be absolutely right, every time! Their plan for the economy is in fact something a child would come up with. But every minute you spend focusing on how dumb they are is another minute you won't spend reading what the critics say about your candidate's plan. Your candidate is, in fact, counting on that -- notice how much of their message is, "We have to stop the other side, because their plan is dumb!"
Everyone Is Scared (And For The Same Reasons)
Each "side" in a political debate says they're afraid of different things, but everyone's overarching fear is that too much power is in the hands of the wrong people and that those people are not accountable. Right now progressive types fear too much power lies with corporations and the rich (who don't answer to voters!), while conservative types fear too much power lies with the federal government (the very problem that led to the American Revolution in the first place!).
It was less about making America great again, and more about making America.
And, weirdly, everyone believes their side is an underdog on the wrong end of a long losing streak that has left them one election away from utter annihilation. Progressives point to the increased wealth of the 1 percent, stagnating wages, endless wars, and recent attacks on everything from voting rights to abortion. Conservatives point to legalized gay marriage, Obamacare, failure to stop Islamic terror, and massive government deficit spending. Again: Powerful people know fear is the primary motivator for any organism, and therefore stoke our fears at every turn.
Thus, all of us agree that this election is the most important of our lives and that the very future of the country is at stake -- all battles have only led to this final, climactic confrontation. If you're expecting me to say that Americans have felt this way about pretty much every election, well, here's a political cartoon from 1801 depicting the Jefferson administration pulling down the country while getting drunkenly sodomized by Satan:
Wait, I think they're both being mind-controlled by that eagle.
Revolution Is Sexy; Real Change Is Strategic And Incremental
America was born from a revolution. It's in our DNA. If you want your blockbuster movie to get asses in the seats, make it about a few common folk taking down an advanced, oppressive force. In the third act, when the hero nobly declines to kill the Emperor, that's OK -- somebody else will toss him down a bottomless shaft. What matters is the unquestioned assumption that abrupt and/or violent upheaval of the current system is the only way to affect change, and that anything less is a de facto stamp of approval for the status quo.
Remember: Negotiations and compromise are what got them into this mess to begin with.
In reality, sudden upheaval usually results in an even more brutal asshole taking power (See: the Middle East, China, Russia ... most of the world throughout history, in fact). This is because the people who shout loudest for abrupt change -- particularly those who promise to restore the greatness of the nation to some imagined idyllic past -- are often either short-sighted idealists or power-hungry sociopaths looking to exploit scared people. It's the political version of a get-rich-quick scheme.
As in, they're the only ones who get rich.
But real change is usually as tedious as watching a game of chess played by two fungus colonies. Slavery didn't vanish with the stroke of Abe Lincoln's pen; abolitionists had been chipping away for 45 damned years, changing public opinion inch by inch. The gay rights movement has been banging its head against the wall since the 1890s and still hasn't broken all the way through. A lawsuit here, a board meeting there, a petition here, a city council candidate there. A step forward, a step back. The kind of grinding, unsatisfying slog that wouldn't even get a montage in a movie adaptation.
You're the best! Around! Nothin's gonna ever keep you down!
Most Of Us Claim To Be Angry But Don't Act Like It
Let's be frank: Most of you reading this won't vote this year. Our audience tends to skew on the younger side, and if you're 18 to 24 years old, about 60 to 70 percent of you can be expected to stay home every presidential election. For off-year congressional and local elections -- the elections that actually determine what laws you'll be living under -- you're all but invisible. My age group -- 25 to 44 -- isn't much better; we'll manage only about 50 percent turnout for a presidential race. We'll scream on social media about Donald Trump or evil billionaires or ISIS, but on Election Day we'll sit home. In states with early voting, we'll let a whole month go by without making the effort.
Because voting booths are entire minutes away, but porn is right here.
You know who does vote? Old people. Only 30 percent will stay home. They're not so big on spending all day arguing on Reddit, but they do like to punch the buttons in a voting booth. Meanwhile, the same young people retweeting enraged messages about the unfair War On Drugs don't even consider turning out in the off-year elections for the district attorney and judicial races (if you're unhappy about how these cases are being prosecuted, start there).
So, let me ask you: All those people insisting that this is the Apocalypse Election, that the wrong winner means the End Of America ... do you think they really mean it? If they really thought it was life-or-death, couldn't they be bothered to go stand in line for about the same amount of time it takes to get a burrito from Chipotle?
At least voting for the "lesser of two evils" only makes you metaphorically vomit up a lung.
I know the defense, and you'll see it in the comments: "I don't vote because both candidates stink! The whole system is corrupt!!"
OK, but ...
Related: Don't Take 'Karen' Away From Us
You Voted For This System, Every Day
My grandmother's most favorite saying was, without a doubt, "You can put a cat in an oven, but that don't make it a biscuit."
Grandma couldn't jump, but she sure could cook up a mean cat.
I don't know what that means, but I think it's this: I can say I wish my vending machine at work sold healthier food, but if the bananas rot while the Flamin' Hot Cheetos sell out by noon, they're going to get the message. That is, my real message.
So, all of you supporting a candidate who's against free trade agreements and for bringing back American manufacturing jobs, do you go out of your way to buy American-made products the rest of the year? If you retweet your candidate every time they say China is eating us alive, are you doing it on your Chinese-made iPhone? If you're enraged by illegal immigrants, do you avoid buying the cheap produce picked with their labor? If you're terrified of international socialism, do you buy Citgo gas? Or even know what I'm referring to?
If you let the Venezuelans save you from freezing to death come wintertime,
you clearly hate freedom.
Do you progressives avoid doing business with corporations with poor environmental or workplace safety records? Do you take public transportation even when a car is available, to minimize your carbon footprint? Do you make sure to only buy products made with union labor, from retail outlets that pay their employees a living wage? When you hear about billionaires or corporations donating to anti-gay causes, do you go out of your way to avoid doing business with their brands, or even find out what those brands are?
I know the answer -- the sales figures speak for themselves. Statistically, our buying habits have nothing to do with the philosophical and ethical positions we say define us. Some of you will insist otherwise in the comments, and that's fine -- the numbers speak louder. The situation we're in only exists because we don't vote with our dollar. The vast majority of us buy the stuff we want and can afford, with no other considerations. We'll spend two hours reading customer reviews for a product but won't spend five minutes finding out who we're making rich in the process of buying it.
Blatant homophobia is easy to forgive when packaged at two for a dollar.
"I only shop at Walmart because I can't afford to shop anywhere else! No one can beat their prices!" Yes, what brave revolutionaries we are. "But what hope do us common folk have against huge corporations?" You know Blockbuster Video used to be a huge corporation, right? Then the common folk starved them out almost overnight? But of course we didn't do that to stand up for a cause -- we did it purely because we found an alternative we liked better. That's how we roll.
America: It'll Do For Now.
You are more powerful than you think, but that power lies in day-to-day decisions and sacrifices that, statistically, virtually none of us are willing to make. When our hippie friend starts asking if the coffee at Starbucks is fair trade, we roll our eyes because worrying about that stuff is exhausting.
So yes, your frustration over the presidential election is valid. And yes, the situation is like this precisely because most of us care about politics on the same schedule we care about Olympic swimming. If you want more power, all you have to do is start treating every day like Election Day. Or, you can stay on this cycle of blowing off steam every four years by screaming at the opposing party for a few months and then hoping that the people affecting real change the other 90 percent of the time know what the hell they're doing.
Or, as my grandmother used to say, "If it bleeds, we can kill it."
David Wong is a New York Times best-selling novelist. Buy his award-winning yet ludicrous novel Futuristic Violence And Fancy Suits, and if you want to know when his next book arrives, join the mailing list. He won't sell your address to spammers.
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