[Originally posted November 9th, 2016 on Facebook]
One lesson we can draw from this election cycle is that neither party really knew what it was doing. The Republicans tried to run the usual candidates and lost in the primary. The Democrats railroaded Sanders and got the machine’s candidate to the general election, and lost. One uptick to this election may be a realization by those whose careers are aligned with either party must accept that without popular support, they will not win elections.
I suspect that neither party will realize it. They will continue to try to seem relevant by telling people that they represent them, even while this election shows that elected representatives–almost all of whom are either Democrat or Republican–are out of step with the needs of the American People.
No matter who was elected last night, it was hardly a triumph for either camp to proclaim that they “won” by getting their unpopular candidate into office. It seems trite for Republicans to gloat, as it would have been for Democrats, had Clinton been elected.
The fact is that everybody, whether black, white, straight, gay, male or female, feels unrepresented by a government which calls itself a democratic republic, but is run by representatives whose primary allegiance rests with parties which are run through contributions from gigantic corporations who do not feel, or worry, or die. Our public policy is not inhuman, but ahuman–it is based on the input of inorganic entities rather than human beings. No wonder people feel isolated and persecuted. Let us realize that we share this isolation in common. Let us realize that because we share this isolation, we are more similarly situated than we are different.
Think of how many hours the volunteers from both parties spent on this election, because they really believed that something should change in our culture. I imagine that that “something” that people think should change is a loss of a sense of community which would make us feel connected, respected, and successful. Now imagine that instead of spending all of those hours volunteering for their candidates, people spent their time baking their new neighbor a cake, proposing a community-betterment project to their village government, helping their elderly neighbor rake her yard, or even just attending a school play or football game or joining a book club or social group.
It is very easy to wake up, tune out, go to work, return home, and tune out some more. I feel emphatically that social disconnection is the prime epidemic of our generation, which contributes to many of our public and personal crises. If I were to ask you to choose, “Either you can have $1 trillion, and any commodity you wish, pools, helicopters–but you must live in 20-square miles, and no one else can come–you can never talk to or see another person again; or you can continue your life as it is now,” which would you choose? I’ve never met anyone that says they would take the trillion dollars with the caveat. It means that people value interpersonal connections more than a fortune. It means a fortune is not enough–we must have the company and respect of other people. So why do we spend such precious little time meeting new people? Why don’t we join groups? Why do we avoid talking to people we’ve never met? Why do we write-off the 1/2 of the country that voted for the other candidate as insane, as though they cannot possibly be feeling the same sense of isolation and disenfranchisement that we feel?
It is easy to get discouraged, but I have to say, I don’t feel like life is so bad. It’s not like I’m rich. I drive a 12 year old car; I spend about 35 hours a week serving people and scraping refried beans off their plate although I have a Masters Degree. But I leave the house and see Bill walking his dog talking to Tom; I go to the bar and see folks I’ve known for years who ask me how I’m doing; I’ve met a dozen new people in the last month from attending City Council and Neighborhood Association meetings. I get up and listen to classical music, write for a while, practice piano, dust, clean my dishes, nap, walk to work, see people–I feel connected, and that makes me feel like I’m thriving. It’s not about money. It’s about the connections. That’s why we call the strangest types of people anti-social.
I propose that we forget about expecting any help from the national or state government, and focus on improving our personal lives and local neighborhoods. I say it is a new permutation of an old-fashioned kind of spiteful American protest: say to yourself “I’m going to do it myself” and then do it. Meet your neighbors and consider that you are forming a new political unit. Demand of your local legislature that they sponsor parades, block parties, and festivals to bring families and small businesses together. Do something about that building that is an eyesore that makes the block feel depressed. Put a new coat of paint on your house. Sweep your sidewalk. Listen to beautiful music with the lights off. Call an old friend. Visit a small town. Make it a point to buy from a local business even if it is a little more expensive than a box store. Go to your neighborhood bar. Go to a meeting of the historical society, or conservancy, or a local government meeting. All of these are political acts, and they will make you feel connected in a way that no party’s grand policy can make you feel connected.
Own your life, cultivate it, beautify it, enrich it with texture and meaning. If we all do this, our public dialogue would be much more productive. But even if other people don’t seem to take this advice, and the public dialogue continues to degrade, forget about it! Quarantine it away like a viral disease and forget about it. Form your own group of people that make you feel positive and do something good, together.