The election approaches. Anxiety festers. Our national cultural and political tribes are at war. Many Americans feel something has gone very wrong with the country they love. Channeling the national turmoil, one prominent leader steps forward and declares:
“This time vote like your whole world depended on it.”
Many Americans today agree. And in a way, they’re right. There is an awful lot at stake on Tuesday.
The speaker was Richard Nixon, in the 1968 presidential race. Our nation, then as now, was in combat with itself.
The contours are rough but similar. Left and right squaring off from their ever-hardening corners. Growing economic inequality undergirding political battles. Racism, overt or subtle, infecting the debate. And the demonization of immigrants now substituting for real concerns of 50 years ago about rising rates of crime and violence.
We’ve seen this before. For or against, it’s been a motivation to vote. Because none of us walks into a polling place alone. We bring with us our hopes and dreams and frustrations and biases and ideals, all of it shaped in some way by the rhetoric of candidates who seek our approval.
Trump animates the debate
At the center of the conversation is President Donald Trump. He appears on no ballots but animates nearly every debate with his fact-challenged invective and shrewd if crude political salesmanship.
For some voters, the election is about providing the moral guardrails that Trump refuses to accept.
For others, it’s a chance to ratify a strong economy and believe that the president will preserve the identity of the country as it was more than a half-century ago.
Do you vote to keep the House of Representatives in Republican hands to move Trump’s agenda forward? Or do you vote for Democrats to provide oversight of his administration and a check against his worst impulses?
Some voters are appalled at the mailing of pipe bombs to Democratic leaders and Trump critics, seeing it as a turn to violence to address political differences.
Some reel from the Pittsburgh synagogue slaughter, and hateful words online that apparently inspire such evil acts.
Sick of partisan rage
Some worry the caravan of desperate Central American migrants might pose a threat to jobs and safety. Others are upset that our military is being massed to stop them.
Many voters are sickened by the partisan rage. The toxicity rivets attention like a bad auto accident but does more damage — important legislative work goes undone and trust in government is further eroded.
It’s not a pretty picture. It’s left many voters exhausted. We hope it doesn’t keep you from voting Tuesday. We know that the enmity will be part of the process. But we hope it inspires you to vote for something better, not more of the same.
A more hopeful model was seen on Sunday — the NYC Marathon. More than 50,000 runners from around the world pounded streets lined with 2.5 million spectators. It’s typically a display of diversity, unity and celebration — a vision of the very best of us.
Take that vision into your polling place, too.
Your world could depend on it.