Five important reminders for a crucial year in American history.
Published January 23, 2020
And just like that, another critical election year is upon us – maybe the most important election year in modern American history.
For caring and thinking people who find themselves aghast at the greed, dishonesty, violence, phobias, and contempt for the common good and planetary wellbeing that are the hallmarks of the Trump cult, it sometimes feels as if the very soul and long-term prospects of the human species are on the line.
And for those less inclined to harbor such apocalyptic assessments, it must still be conceded that there is a hell of a lot at stake this year – especially in states like North Carolina where essentially every important office, save for Richard Burr’s Senate seat and a handful of high-level state courts seats – is on the ballot.
In such an environment (and with absentee voting in the March 3 North Carolina primary election already underway), it would be easy for those who both passionately favor a particular presidential candidate and see major flaws in his or her competitors to feel as if everything rides on their candidate’s success.
You’ve probably heard this sentiment expressed or perhaps even felt it yourself: “if that doggone – fill in the name – gets the nomination, I’ve had it. For me, it’s gonna’ be Canada, here I come.”
If this sounds like you or someone you know, here are five important things to bear in mind:
Number One: It may seem otherwise, but there isn’t that much of a difference in what any of the Democrats competing to unseat Donald Trump will do (or indeed, as the bumper sticker puts it, what “any functioning adult” would do) if they are elected. This is not to imply that there aren’t very important distinctions to be made between the candidates in terms of the values, styles, symbolism and policies that they would bring to the White House.
That said and notwithstanding the delusions of Trump and many of his supporters, the President of the United States is not a dictator. Whoever is elected will be forced to work with what is almost sure to be a narrowly divided and contentious Congress.
If you doubt this, think back for a moment to that remarkable January of 11 years ago when Barack Obama assumed the presidency at a moment of great national economic crisis. If ever there was a time at which it seemed the table was set for huge, New Deal-like change this was it.
Except that it wasn’t. Despite Obama’s brilliance, honesty, formidable communication skills, and many important accomplishments, much of his agenda was ultimately blunted by the same forces that helped unleash Trump on the nation. Those forces are still present and stand ready to undermine any candidate that defeats Trump.
Number Two: A huge proportion of what a president accomplishes happens “behind the scenes” – in the people he or she appoints to run the federal bureaucracy and oversee rulemaking, as federal judges, as diplomats and to serve in thousands of other important jobs. Simply put, the pool of appointees in this realm will not differ that much between any of the Democratic candidates trying to unseat Trump.
Number Three: Politics is not a “fair” business. For those who care deeply about particular candidates, it’s easy to grow angry and disillusioned when seemingly “unworthy” candidates who may not have “paid their dues,” or who lack the apparent deep commitment to a particular agenda, or who may have done or said something dumb or wrong in the past, rise to the top. It can be especially maddening when a voting group embraces a candidate for reasons of style or past personal connections rather than issues of policy.
The solution: get over it. In 2020, to take such a stance (at least for long) is to play right into the hands of the Trumpists.
Number Four: All other issues pale in comparison to the global climate emergency. It certainly remains essential to fight for a just economy, universal healthcare, an end to rigged elections, public education, LGBTQ equality, civil rights and civil liberties for all, and an end to gun violence, militarism and nativism, but if our state, nation and planet don’t get serious – deadly and urgently serious – about rescuing the biosphere from the pollution that threatens to overwhelm it, then all other issues will become tragically irrelevant in the decades ahead.
Number Five: The work to rescue and rebuild the country and the planet begins anew on November 4 – the day after Election Day. No matter what happens on November 3, global temperatures will still be rising; war, famine and disease will still be driving millions in search of refuge; authoritarianism and religious fanaticism will still be threatening human freedom and equality; people will still be dying for want of basic necessities like health care; and a handful of billionaires will still control an obscene share of the world’s wealth.
No new president can even hope to tackle this mountainous list of challenges without an unprecedented level of passionate support from the people – and particularly the activists – who helped elect them. Here’s to keeping one’s perspective about such matters and staying committed to the fight in the months and years ahead.