The Election

Reading this week:

  • Medallion Status by John Hodgman

This post is for me. It’s me trying to work some things out. I should have written it earlier, when I was angrier and more tense. I’m writing this on Wednesday night, still before it is clear who the winner is but with Biden the clear favorite.

With Biden pulling ahead, and behind me a day of being upset and distracted, I’ve calmed down considerably. But what have I calmed down about? I was hoping for a blue wave, a Democratic landslide, a firm repudiation of the vileness of the Republican party and what they stand for. That didn’t happen. Instead, while Biden has maybe squeaked out a win over Trump, I am still faced with the gut-wrenching reality that millions upon millions of Americans looked at a corrupted orange husk of a man and thought to themselves “that’s our guy.”

I have to keep reminding myself that this is historic, awesome, awe-inspiring. Biden has garnered more votes than any candidate in history, outstripping Trump by millions of votes, the votes of citizens that raised their heads and decided they wanted Biden’s fundamental decency to represent them on the world stage. No one has unseated a sitting president in nearly three decades, and before that it was the Democrats that got regularly knocked out. This is unprecedented, this is historic, this is great. I have to keep reminding myself of that instead of mourning the 55 Senate majority it is now clear we were never going to have.

Fundamentally, I don’t know how to feel. It’s frustrating to work through these emotions. I wish someone would tell me what I have a right to feel, which feelings are useful and should be cherished and which are harmful and should be tossed out. When it seemed like Trump was going to be reelected, I was angry. But what was I angry at? In so many ways, this election doesn’t affect me. I’m a mediocre white guy, which provides me boundless opportunity in America, no matter who wins.

I think to myself that maybe I could have been angry on behalf of all the vulnerable people affected by Republican policies in this country. This is a power of being a white guy; we are lauded when we get angry. It’s seen as machismo and leadership and daring. I could use that anger to protect the little guy. But what did I actually do to protect them? I did not help much this election. It didn’t seem worthwhile to campaign; I live and vote in Connecticut. Besides, I told myself, I was far too busy as a grad student to be able to do anything. I signed up for one phone banking shift, but when the day came I had homework to do and pulled out. When things seemed really bad I would assuage my guilt by throwing $25 or $50 at a campaign or cause I liked.

My worst impulse was feeling like I should run away from America. Facing the possibility of a Trump win, forced to face the cruel reality that enough voters would disagree with me to pick a man I hated, that maybe I could just move somewhere else. Where else? I don’t know. But the mere ability to contemplate just packing up and moving out, doing nothing to help the people left behind to survive in that awful vision is wrapped up in so much privilege and selfishness it’s mortifying to just be able to admit that the thought crossed my mind.

But the thought of staying is also overwhelming. Clearly something must be done. But what? I don’t know. My friend who is a nurse told me about a patient of hers who was hospitalized for COVID, and after the experience still felt that COVID was no big deal. What more could you possibly do to convince a person like that? Faced with their own terrifying mortality, they still can’t accept the truth. How do you sway a whole nation of people like that?

One of the major reasons I am interested in international development is that I fundamentally feel those problems are easy. I am viscerally aware that generations of development practitioners before me felt the same way, and I don’t want to get lost in the nuance. But you look at people in the world and the solutions seem so obvious. People are hungry? Feed them. People are homeless? House them. People are sick? Heal them.

The atrocious part is that these problems that people face there, our people face here. That is absurd. Here, in the United States, for every person facing hardship and need, we have the food to feed them, the homes to house them, and the medicines to heal them. We have the resources to make it all happen, and we simply don’t. I feel so small and powerless against this titanic moral breach in the American populace that lets them look at their own countrymen and say to themselves that those other people don’t deserve help. I would rather run away to Africa to try to solve their problems, because deep down I know that if I fail, I will still be okay. That doesn’t apply in America.

And so like I said at the top I should have written this when I was angrier. It would have felt more meaningful. It’s still not clear that Biden is going to win. But no matter what I get to calm down. Move on with my life. I’ve even wondered if my job prospects next summer wouldn’t be better under a Trump presidency, because even under him I want to work for the government and I feel like there would be less competition under Trump. I have massive privilege that lets me get angry, that lets me spend a day and a half wallowing in anger and frustration, looking for any remaining Republicans on my Facebook to lash out and yell at, before settling in to live the same life I would have led either way. That anger feels unjustified; I didn’t work to earn it, and my life doesn’t merit it. And so I don’t know what to feel. Happy, I suppose.