Vote Like The Fate Of The World Depends On It
Let's say you're a corrupt, power-hungry monster who is in some high position of authority. Which of these two citizens is a bigger threat to you:
A) A completely vapid, selfish person who doesn't get involved with politics because they're too busy clothes-shopping and watching reality TV
B) One who passionately opposes you, but outside of retweeting memes about it, doesn't get involved because the entire system is corrupt and therefore there's no point taking any action until the whole thing is rebooted somehow
I think A is the bigger worry. At least that person might have a crisis of conscience at some point. The second one has decided that their inaction is heroic.
Hey, have I mentioned that the USA is having an election in a few days?
It's Been Two Years Of Rage And Terror (At Least, That's What We Say)
You might not have guessed this because I'm so well-adjusted, but I spent every Sunday growing up hearing that the Apocalypse was imminent -- within the year, maybe within the month or the hour. I would call the congregation "doomsday preppers," but here's the thing: They weren't prepping at all. They talked like the apocalypse was coming, describing in chilling detail how soon, the godless government would start beheading Christians. But they weren't spending their spare time stocking water, canned goods, or fuel. They walked out of those sermons about the impending starvation and pestilence and then went home to watch the Chicago Bears.
I don't think they were lying about their beliefs; it's just that those beliefs didn't exist anywhere outside of their skulls. They certainly didn't extend to their feet, which could have carried them to the hardware store to get water purification pills and a shitload of batteries. They never propelled them to the library to study insurgency and guerrilla tactics. They believed the climactic battle with Satan was at hand, but they didn't believe it.
I'm bringing this up now because today I can open up my Twitter feed and see a meme about how only guns and guillotines will end the Trumpocalypse, followed minutes later by that exact same user lavishing praise on Red Dead Redemption 2. ("I'm 70 hours in and barely scratched the surface!")
So now, on the eve of a vote that can reverse the tide of history, I'm curious to see. All that talk for the last two years about how we're living under the new Hitler, do people really believe it? Or is it just, like, a thing we say?
Remember, Apathy Is How We Got Here
Here's a 30-second catch-up for anyone new to this:
Under our system, the president can't do shit without the cooperation of both houses of Congress. In theory, he or she cannot spend one penny of the budget or order one shot fired in a war without Congress signing off. I used the phrase "in theory" there, and I'm going to use it again to say that in theory, which party controls Congress should actually mean more than which party owns the White House.
In reality, there are lots of exceptions that presidents have carved out for themselves over the years (including the ability to send troops into battle), but Congress still holds tremendous power by any measure. This system was specifically designed to prevent any one madman from taking it over. As part of that mechanism, the citizens are given the chance to completely refresh the Congress every two years, with the next chance coming up on Tuesday, November 6.
This is the specific fail-safe given to the people to end a supposed reign of terror.
Yet, even though these elections determine how much suffering will be felt by millions of people, most of us don't vote in them. For example, if you're reading this, you probably know there was a recent shitstorm when the Senate -- controlled by Trump's Republican party -- confirmed a Supreme Court justice who A) may make abortion illegal in 20 states, B) will probably serve 40-50 years, and C) stands accused of sexual assault.
Prior to that, there was an equal furor when that same Republican-controlled Senate blocked President Obama from appointing a Supreme Court justice, instead stalling the process until President Trump could ram through hyper-conservative Neil Gorsuch. You know, the other justice who will likely vote to reverse affirmative action laws and stop the EPA from cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Well, the reason all of that happened is that there was a midterm election just like this one in 2014, in which the Republicans took over the Senate, gaining an astounding nine seats (and an automatic majority vote on any issue).
They did it because we didn't show up to vote. Only 36 percent of voters bothered showing up to the polls, and among people aged 18-29, only 21 percent voted.
That wasn't due to suppression or gerrymandering. That was due to people like you and me not giving a shit.
Really let those numbers sink in. Keep them fresh in your mind as you're on social media and YouTube and hearing breathless talk about how the new Supreme Court is going to turn back civil rights by 50 years, how women will be getting abortions in alleys and corporations will now be free to literally drive the species to extinction. All of that was at stake in that 2014 election and we knew it. The Senate chooses the Supreme Court, and the lifetime-appointment judges were old as shit. And yet almost 80 percent of young voters stayed home anyway.
Based on our history, that is almost certain to happen again on Tuesday.
Anyone Who Says Your Vote Doesn't Matter Is A Fucking Liar
Hey, you know who is going to vote? Old people. Rich people. People who are scared of change. They'll do it because they actually convert their fear into action. They'll do it because they know, through a long string of successes, that voting is how you seize power.
They do not have the cool, detached cynicism of "My vote doesn't matter anyway." They aren't burdened with the youthful, naive ignorance that disguises itself as jaded cynicism, that bullshit thing we do where we dress up inaction as rebellion, in the form of ...
"Both parties are the same."
... or ....
"Nothing ever changes anyway."
... or my personal favorite:
"Why bother voting when the true change won't come until there's some revolution to totally overthrow the system, which I secretly know will never happen and which I don't actually want to happen at all."
These are the kids who, if you tell them they should support companies that look out for the well-being of their employees and the environment, will say, "There is no ethical consumption under capitalism." Which sounds very noble until you realize that they put this into action by not spending one second worrying about where they spend their money (since it's all equally corrupt, see). Hey, isn't that the exact same behavior as someone who doesn't give a shit about workers or the environment? Yep!
Hmmm, it's almost like this system encourages that kind of shallow cynicism, because those in power know it poses no actual threat to the status quo whatsoever. Hey, let's go yell at a politician at a restaurant. That'll do it.
I mean, come on. We're all adults, right? You can't have followed politics on even a casual basis and still think all sides are the same. That's stupidly ignoring all of the narrow, bitter battles that have been won in the name of civil rights, minimum wage, health care, gay rights, immigration, abortion, and the environment over the course of generations.
It's also ignoring all of the things this administration still wants to do, and absolutely needs a cooperative Congress to pass, in regards to immigration, deregulation, repealing Obamacare, and cutting Social Security and Medicare to fund tax cuts. And it's ignoring the fact that the difference between those things getting passed or not may come down to if just the people reading this article show up to vote.
Think I'm bullshitting you? Here:
That's what 90,000 or so people looks like. You can fit them in one building to watch a group of young men trade concussions. If that many anti-Trump voters had showed up to the polls instead of staying home in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, Hillary Clinton would be president, Trump would be hosting a YouTube vlog, and absolutely no one would be talking about abortion, gay marriage, or Obamacare getting overturned. And some of these congressional races Tuesday will be much tighter than that -- a few thousand votes, or even a few hundred.
Every election is tight now. Every election comes down to who shows up. Every election comes down to which side actually wants to make change happen, and which side is just talking shit.
We Already Have Our Excuses Ready
Being a progressive is kind of like being a nerd in high school -- your identity is built around being a powerless outcast, and thus gaining power or popularity feels like a betrayal. Believing in an inherently unfair system is great if it motivates you to help make it more fair, but every so often, it just means we have a ready-made excuse for when we fail to achieve that goal.
If Trump's party holds onto one or both houses of Congress on Tuesday, it will be due to a whole bunch of narrow races going their way. If so, there will be many articles on left-wing blogs about how voter suppression won the GOP the election because of new voter ID laws and registration purges turning away thousands of votes. This will completely ignore the fact that 70-plus percent of us who weren't suppressed just chose to stay home, and the fact that a strong enough turnout would have crushed those suppression efforts like a horse stepping on a single human testicle.
We'll talk about gerrymandering, corporate campaign donations, the undemocratic Senate in which a vote in Wyoming carries as much power as 80 votes in California. Never mind bitter political battles that have been won by "victims" over the decades, who each faced unfair/rigged systems and fucking won anyway. We can't acknowledge that we can in fact overcome the unfairness if we push hard enough, because that means if we fail to do it, that it's our fault. And nothing can ever be our fault, because victim-blaming is wrong and also we're always the victims.
And worst of all, the next day, as the disappointing results roll in, all of the too-cool-to-care rebels will act like this is proof they were right. "See? This is why I didn't bother to vote. We never win anyway."
It's kind of amazing, the way the lazy part of your brain is also a master of disguise, dressing up passive inaction as badass rebellion. "If you think about it, refusing to participate is the most courageous stance of all! And who cares if we're one senator away from women having to get coat hanger abortions again? My Senate candidate doesn't support free college, so I'm staying home!"
Can We Tolerate The Boredom Of Changing The World?
I'm sorry if I seem cranky. My goal here is to create a column that will hopefully look ridiculous weeks or months from now, after a historic midterms turnout that totally changes the game going forward. That maybe in all of the thousands of people who read this, a couple of them will tolerate standing in line at the polls just to prove me wrong. Hell, if you're reading this, you're probably already the engaged type of voter who does turn out, even in the midterms.
But the early news doesn't look promising. Among voters 18-29, 60 percent say they know little or nothing about their candidates for Congress, and only 48 percent understand why it matters which party is in control (among voters 65 and older, it's 83 percent). So far, early voting is actually higher in heavily Republican areas, though of course we don't know who they're voting for. I can guess. Hey, did I mention that Trump's approval rating is approaching his all-time high? And that it's been steadily climbing for the last year? Is that the impression you'd get if you only followed politics on Twitter?
That's the thing. I'm frustrated with people who follow politics for entertainment, for the fun of watching the drama play out and the spiteful joy of owning the morons on the other side. That, after all, is how we got here, with a reality TV host as president, one who rode a tide of high ratings created by the very people who hate him most. Their morbid fascination put him in power, and will likely keep him there. We like having our morality in black and white, to be able to yell about a guy who puts refugee kids in cages instead of having to argue about the unsustainability of Medicare fee schedules and how that would be addressed under Medicare-for-all.
As long as we're following these issues purely for entertainment, we'll lose, because the things we want aren't fun to talk about. Your guy will spend the next year talking about projected CO2 levels in 2050, and Trump will blow it out of the headlines with a single sexist joke. We'll blame the media (since nothing can ever be our fault) for covering the latter, despite the fact that we simply won't engage with political content that isn't outrage porn. The war in Yemen is boring, dunking on Tucker Carlson's dumb tweets is fun.
But politics shouldn't be fun. And the reason the right controls every level of government is that they're willing to do the boring parts. They'll go to the city council meetings, they'll vote for the local shit, they'll actually follow through with their boycott threats. "But they've unfairly redrawn the election map!" Sure, but how did they obtain the power to do that?
They seize power because A) they believe they're entitled to it, and B) they translate that entitlement to action. If you want to copy something from the other side, fucking copy that.
That just goes back to that one lesson no movie will ever teach you: Accomplishing great things isn't just hard, it's boring. Important subjects are tedious and have no entertainment value whatsoever. Standing in line to vote is boring, the actual vote itself is boring. Too boring for many of us to tolerate, even though we say the entire fate of the world hangs in the balance. I don't think that will change on Tuesday, though I've never wanted so badly to be wrong about something in my life.
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