By Frank Blechman
Feeling a little giddy? Poised on the eve of an election commentators (with a straight face) are calling “the most momentous in history,” with events and polls ricocheting from hopeful to terrible in seconds, with emails screaming “the sky is falling!” (if you don’t send $25 by midnight tonight)? It is hard not to get dizzy.
Worse, most analysts say that election results tomorrow night might well be incomplete and inconclusive, leaving us all in a continued state of anxiety for days or weeks to come.
At the risk of being even more of a fuddy-duddy curmudgeon than usual, I want to invite you to take the long-view.
- The pendulum swings back and forth. This is not the first time we have flirted with bigotry and authoritarianism in the United States. In the 1780s there were many who wanted George Washington to be a king or something very much like one. In the 1830s & ‘40s, slave-holding aristocrats felt comfortable expanding their reach and aspiring to national dominance, while anti-immigrant ‘Know Nothings’ claimed the political center. In the 1880s, industrial autocrats strode pretty freely across the landscape. In the 1920s, financial giants thought they had it all figured out. In our own time, a failed businessman thinks he is the greatest success story of all time, beyond any limits or rules. But, in each of these cases, public rejection of those claims led to progressive waves in the decades that followed.
- Overview is hard. In the middle of anything, it is hard to see the forest for the trees. The here and now will always be more emotionally engaging than the there and then. That is why historians tell us that we have to wait at least a generation or two to judge events. Was this really “the most important election” of all time? Or, was it the last one? Or the next one?
- Actions speak louder than words. The importance of this election will largely be determined not by what happens tomorrow, or the week after that. The question is, “What will we, as a nation, do next?” Will we continue on a path of fear and division? Or will we find common ground to rebuild our social and physical infrastructures? Rolling back the executive orders of the current president will be a tiresome chore that must be done. Yet that is not even the beginning of the new steps that must be taken to address the challenges before us. Promises of a brighter day ahead will be welcome, but not the real thing. We need real legislated, durable change expressed in appointments, policies, budgets, and programs.
We can only achieve long-term, lasting progressive change if we envision it, demand it, work for it.
Can “Sleepy Joe” and a traumatized Congress think long-term to achieve these goals? Today, it seems premature to envision the world we want to see in 10 or 20 years. Living in the pressure of the current chaos, we will welcome a chance just to breathe again, not bracing for the next insult, shock, or crisis.
Premature or not, it seems clear to me that as a nation we can only achieve long-term, lasting progressive change if we envision it, demand it, work for it. The pendulum may swing, but we also have to push it. We the people must step back, think big, and shape the more perfect union in which we wish to live.