“Politics is downstream from culture.” So goes the saying. Maybe that’s been true in the past, but 2016 has felt different. This election consumed all aspects of culture, as if we decamped from the tidier, spacious stomping grounds upstream – art, music, community, hobbies, thoughtful conversation – and somersaulted willingly into the muddy waters below.
Nothing escaped Politics. Not the Tony awards, not the classroom, not the sporting field. The great behemoth of “issues” making up this election refused normal constraints, busting out of news outlets and debate forums, insisting on owning the show, all times, all places.
Even the miraculous tear jerker of a Chicago Cubs’ World Series win was finagled to be somehow relevant to this election.
2016 has forced every moment to make itself known by its relation to The Election, like the nightmare scenario from Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel, Purity, where every citizen of the U.S.S.R. had to define themselves in reference to The State.
This is all very bad. Bad for democracy, yes, of course.
But it is also bad for the human spirit, which is to say, this relentless focus on the presidential election is, at its base, a kind of lie.
The country will go on, regardless of who wins today. It will.
Your life will go on, and the things that make if meaningful will remain. They will.
I do not want to minimize the impact a U.S. president has – the reach and repercussions of Oval Office inhabitants are probably innumerable. Vote, by all means. It matters. Enormously.
But remember that your life is not defined by the country you live in, and it’s not defined by the president representing you. If that kind of thing were the case, there would be no Nelson Mandela. There would be no Dietrich Bonhoeffer. There would be no Ralph Waldo Emerson. There would be no Virginia Woolf.
There would also be no Sufjan Stevens, no Janis Joplin, no Langston Hughes, no Herman Melville.
If everyone gave up hope, quit striving, and simply moped about because the president – or the Prime Minister, or the Great Leader, or the dictator, or whoever – did not “represent” them, then the whole of human history would be one giant swath of bland, beige tragedy.
Today at church, our pastor noted that we can become prone to the “idolatry of government.” Especially in America, sitting at the place of power and prestige that we are used to… We can imagine that if only this or that cause were taken up, seen in totality, if only justice were served here or there, then all our problems would be solved.
They would not. Circumstances might improve for some, and I am all for that. But no government program will ever replace a family. No policy will ever stand in for a sense of belonging, of internal empowerment
As someone who writes about education, this election has been a colossal disappointment. The issue received roughly 0 percent of anyone’s attention, and that is to the detriment and shame of our entire nation.
But the truth is that the U.S. public school system is decentralized. States have control over their own curriculum, and local districts get to decide on most of the concerns parents have. What time school begins, when the day ends, how teachers are trained and mentored, the grading system, much of the curriculum, field trips, and so on.
If the results of today’s election are a disappointment, then remember that despair is not the only menu option. There are school board elections – run. There are PTA meetings – join the group and go.
There are charities and NGOs aplenty – get educated about the causes you care about, then donate or volunteer.
Then find a concert, preferably headlining a local band, and go enjoy that. Find a community theater to support, or be a part of yourself. If you often hear that you give great advice, please consider becoming a mentor.
We’re always told to think bigger, but I actually have come round to believing we might need to think smaller. Your neighbors are humans, which qualifies them as part of “humanity.” Invest in them.
Whether it’s President Clinton or President Trump, make your peace with the results.
You have a much bigger say in what goes in around you than any politician in DC.
Image Credit: Getty Images