I have a growing concern for my country. Normally I abstain from political discussion, a rule learned from my mother. Usually, I find that if I so much as tread a toe into that realm I am in for a rather intense talking at by someone who has clearly spent a great deal more time preparing for just this occasion than I ever thought to do. This is known to some as bringing a knife to a gun fight. My understanding of politics and democracy as demonstrated by our still young nation is based on my opinions, on what I see, and on what I feel. The fact that I am even paying attention to the election at all is a sign that something is very wrong. Donald Trump versus Hilary Clinton.
Thanks in large part to my partner, I have been a great deal more informed this time. Thusly I watched my first ever, in memory, presidential debate. And then I watched my second one. Seeing these two potential leaders of my nation behave like teenagers was one of the most disheartening experiences of my adult life. There was no high route or low route, they both came to the table low with guns blazing. They picked and prodded one another, they spoke over one another. They lost all decorum. I had hoped Hilary would rise above and instead, she jabbed back at the bully who has so few words he has to repeat them on an endless loop. His rhetoric is simple and understandable. You can almost understand the appeal, after all, he has all the best words. He repeats and repeats and repeats his agenda. I do believe he is being honest. I believe he honestly does want exactly what he says he does. Closed borders. Tax cuts that will allow the rich to get richer. He wants to say anything to anyone and sue those that defy him. He wants to go up to a woman and do anything he pleases. He has said this all repeatedly.
This is a billionaire who builds ornate towers and smears his name across the world with all the forethought of a teenage boy discovering for the first time the joys of his penis.
When asked about his derogatory comments he says it is just locker room talk and claims himself separate from them. A locker room of predation perhaps. He makes demeaning women acceptable. This is a country where a woman gets honked and whistled at in her front yard. This is a country where a woman walking down the street alone receives jeers and lascivious invectives tossed from men in passing cars. This is a country that leaves female victims of sexual assault or misconduct too ashamed and guilty to come forward. This is a country where even if that woman does come forward she will be humiliated on trial, forced to debase herself in any number of ways, and will have to watch as her attacker receives little more than a slap on the wrist. This is still happening. This hasn’t stopped happening. As a boy enters puberty he may latch onto the waving flag of entitlement between his thighs and proceed to do and say whatever he pleases to anyone with discernible femininity. This begins in youth and continues well into old age. Too many women and girls in our country have suffered physical and psychological damage from run-ins with this sort of individual. Yet, Donald Trump would excuse this as something benign. Here is a man who holds the public eye, who wishes to hold the highest office in our land, who will be the figurehead for our nation, and who treats his fellow human beings with continual disrespect. He is a man who has spent a lifetime kowtowed to by individuals in his employ or in awe of his wealth. He is a man who genuinely believes he is above everyone and everything. What is most terrifying is that he has swayed more than just the most aggressive and ugly hearts of our country. He has managed to convince men of logic, immigrants, and women to come to his side under the guise of truth and transparency. He is dangerous. I have long cast a lazy eye towards the doings of our government but with this looming election, my mind is cracked wide open with the weight of endless human struggles that result in no progress.
I was raised by Marines in a Republican household in Alabama. I knew I was expected to align myself with that party, for if my parents believed it to be good surely I must as well. Despite this, I never understood why I had to commit to one side or another, why I had to slap a label on my forehead and declare my anemic beliefs. How could I possibly decide to back one political horse forever? Each new generation of politicians hardly reflects the original tenements set out by either party and I certainly can’t rank each Republican or Democratic president next to their own ilk and call them equal. My conscience wants to vote for someone who is no longer in the running. The election now is a choice that was never supposed to be. In the beginning, it was a joke that we were all in on. Everyone chuckled and shrugged and thought, there he goes again, going after something he hasn’t earned. The world laughed. America laughed. We have stopped laughing. The joke has lost its humor. This cannot be real.
I admit, I know very little about each candidate's individual hopes and dreams for their presidential terms. Despite having watched the two debates and having heard what each candidate had to say, I am still not entirely certain. The Donald uses duckspeak on an endless loop and refuses to answer the questions asked -- usually by throwing around non-sequitur fear-mongering buzz words. He strikes out continually at Hilary trying to strengthen his vague position by weakening hers. She, at times, becomes consumed by the need to defend herself and goes off message. The debate runs on and we know less than we did at the start. So I must go with what I do know.
I know what I have always known about Donald Trump; aside from his terribly off-putting appearance, which brings to mind a predatory parasite, he is a man of poor moral fiber. There is something inherently untrustworthy about him despite his affinity for speaking exactly what is on his mind. He is not the backbone of this country, he is the tick that sinks in its pincers and buries its head until it grows fat from our blood leaving behind only infection. He breeds. He builds. He destroys. That is what I know of him.
And I know what I have always known of Hilary Clinton. There is a hardness to her, a rigidity and indomitability that you can’t shake. She doesn’t look like my mother or anyone’s mother. She looks like the matron of a great house who kicks ass and takes names without you ever knowing her boot to touch a bottom. She, in one of the most public scandals of my lifetime, did the impossible and didn’t flinch when the reputation of her husband and her family was cast into shame. She did not quake. She took his hand and walked out of that house with more dignity than he deserved. She is a woman who takes her vows seriously.
I don’t need to know their policies. At this point in our national history, I can hardly see how it makes a difference. Potential leaders make campaign promises that Congress won’t let them keep. Money flies from hand to hand and progress is strangled by capitalism. The upper echelons have control of political influence and we are fools to pretend otherwise. Armed with this knowledge we must certainly be able to see why every step forward is so slow. The offer of profit must be seen before a step can be taken. We, as citizens, are slaves to the industry of the rich and greedy. We are placated by the idea that it is possible to rise above our station, to jump up a class. We refuse to acknowledge that this systemic competition hinders us. We do not help one another. We do not come together as a community. We build hierarchies instead. We sit in a building going up in flame drinking our coffee and telling ourselves everything is fine. It is not fine.
And here we are, this presidential election, jammed right there between a rock and a hard place.
Our options are a man whose sole purpose it is to ensure as much profit for himself as possible no matter the cost, and a woman likely unaware of just how much influence others of his kind already have on her. Given the nature of our bipartisan election process, we know that it will, inevitably, be one of them. The votes will be cast and no one will be satisfied.
So let’s look at it this way. Maybe Donald Trump really is the answer. Maybe, on some off-chance, his exclusionary policies help for a while. Maybe his tax plan works for a while. Maybe the rich get richer and their obscene wealth slowly trickles all the way down to the very bottom. Maybe since this is essentially all that has always been people will be content to stay right where they already were. Then things begin to change. Under his umbrella of righteousness, bigots and predators of all variety gain footing and injustice rises to unheard of levels. Americans abroad are no longer met with mere disgust, rather they receive outright violence. The world looks at our President, they listen to his words, and all of us take the blame for the one. People from every country speak out and in a fit of pique this thin-skinned man, incapable of accepting opinions other than his own, retaliates with the weapons and military forces he now controls. Civil war breaks out in our country as violent crimes and blatant cruelty push ordinary citizens to the breaking point. Global war breaks out as he calls the loyalties and allies of previous administrations into play.
Someone, likely he, hits a button and the world explodes. The few left in the ruin of our earth wake to find themselves on Cormac McCarthy’s long Road. This is an egregiously fantastic worst-case scenario that is scarily possible with this man.
On the other hand, we have Hilary Clinton. A woman who is the subject of much discussion. A potentially crooked yet effective politician. Her worst crime, though unspoken by the populace, is to have stayed in a marriage that was so publicly soiled. Something that should lend strength to her position and truth to her word and honor to her vows shames her. Under her maybe nothing will get done. Maybe she will meet with so much red tape and backlash from her mistakes that she can’t keep so much as one promise. Or maybe her policies are given a chance and she succeeds just enough to make a difference. Maybe she makes only the smallest progress before passing the mantel to her successor. Maybe the greatest thing she accomplishes in her time is the sheer act of being the first woman to fill that seat. We, by virtue of following our first black president with our first female president, add fertilizer to the planted seed of change. In those years and the ones to follow our nation begins to feel a little different as we take steps further onto the path we all hope this country is on. And maybe some citizen of one country or another chooses to attack us while this progress is grappling for purchase. Maybe her opposition uses this event to devalue everything she has done and the public devours it as a salve for fresh wounds. Maybe this halts forward motion in its tracks as our government driven by power-mad greed uses the national state of fear to further reduce our freedoms and we welcome it as we have always done. But this has already happened before and the door is still cracked and we can hope that later generations will somehow be better.
No one can know what lies in the months and years that will follow November 8th, 2016, least of all a girl currently on foreign soil. No matter which side of the line you are on, this is an election to be remembered. This is the election that awoke our sleeping nation for good or ill. This is the election that unbound our eyes. This is a moment that has captured the attention of even the most wayward. America, in its entirety, is paying attention for what may be the first time in a very long while. There is something good and wonderful that can be taken from this, no matter the outcome, our eyes are open.
When you get to the booth on the 8th, and I really hope you get there, you will privately take the measure of the land. You will place a hand on either side and try to determine which is the limestone and which is the conglomerate. You can choose the person who leaves fear in his wake and says he will make us great again. You can choose the woman who is trying, with ferocity, to double-down on a game-changing presidency. You can make any choice you please. This is your moment and you don't have to tell anyone what you have done. You will cast your ballot. You will put that sticker on your chest and declare yourself a voter. You will walk out of the voting hall awake and determined to remain so for that is what our country needs most. Regardless of who takes office, we as citizens are responsible for the direction of our nation.