People keep asking me how I feel about tomorrow’s election.
I’m not quite sure how to answer that question.
I feel relieved that the endless cycle of repeating political ads will be finally be broken. I feel excited at the prospect that a woman may be elected president for the first time; 240 years after this country’s founding.
But mostly, I feel an impending sense of doom.
Not so much about the election itself, but about the day after the election – about how we move on after this nasty, divisive campaign season in an increasingly polarized country.
I don’t mean to glorify the past, here – politics has always been messy, scandalous, and far less ideal than we might hope or pretend. But with my limited life time of experience, it seems like things have gotten particularly bad.
In All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid, political journalist Matt Bai tracks the fall of Gary Hart. The dashing young Democrat who in was on the road to becoming his party’s Presidential nominee until a sex scandal took him down in 1987.
Today, that story seems unremarkable – what politician hasn’t been taken down by a sex scandal? But Hart’s story is remarkable because it was the first. As Bai argues, the Gary Hart affair marked a turning point in American political journalism, a moment when public life ceased to allow a private life.
And perhaps this is being over dramatic, but it feels like we are hitting another tide right now. A point where we’re all accustomed to being entrenched in our own point of view, where the line between fact and opinion has become irreparably blurred.
In the field of Civic Studies we don’t just complain about the many failings of civic society, but rather we ask “what should we do?”
As I ponder the future on this election-eve, my best answer to that question is to first get out and vote, but to then get out and talk – to your friends, to neighbors, and to strangers. Or perhaps, I should say: next, get out and listen.
No matter who wins this election, the hardest work – the work of reuniting folks across this great land and the work of finding space in our hearts to respect everyone in it – that work will fall to us.
Tomorrow, we perform a small civic duty and vote. The day after that the real work begins.