This week, I had an epiphany that is healing the post-election grief that many of us are experiencing every day. I realized that my electoral depression is about more than politics. It is about my own mortality.
I grew up in the crucible of the 1960s Cultural Revolution, and we were certain that the New World was right around the corner. We believed that history was on our side and the arc of history was heading toward a great global evolutionary transformation, marking a new era for humanity. I was confident that my work as a cultural change agent would be realized in my lifetime. A series of historical shocks, have dimmed my youthful self-confidence. Now that I am an official senior citizen, it is looking like I may not live to see the Promised Land. That’s the proximate source of my persistent sadness over American society’s descent to the dark side in 2016. That’s how politics has become personal.
Progressives have been consumed with analyzing the 2016 election results and attempting to identify a narrative or a strategy that would have yielded a better outcome. My social media feed has been filled with debates between Democratic Party loyalists and Warren Wing progressives about ideology and campaign tactics. Personal and political relationships have frayed, as the full gravity of our loss sets in. Deep ideological fissures have been revealed. The atmosphere of depression and dismay is not going away. We are grieving the fact that we don’t live in the country we thought we did.
The mainstream media treats elections like professional sports play-offs, like your team lost the World Series or the Super Bowl, so you go back to the drawing board for the next season. It’s not like that. Civic engagement in politics is not a game.
What politics are ultimately about is: what kind of a society do we want to live in, what are the bedrock cultural values that we want to protect. These are deeply held moral axioms and we won’t ‘just get over it.’
Joanna Macy, a renowned philosopher and writer, posted in a widely circulated essay: “The pain we feel is the removal of our illusory comfort zone where we thought everything was sort of OK. But as everything is not OK, we need the curtains pulled back… before we can take it on anew, we have to fully get the depth of its utter moral and spiritual bankruptcy.”
I wrote a column last year with the prophetic headline “Defining Political Deviance Downwards.” Sadly, it seems quaint now. I simply could not imagine that we would reach the degree of mendacious political depravity and disdain for democratic norms that are the defining characteristics of the emerging Trump era. Our political and journalistic institutions are incapable of processing a genuine constitutional crisis. This is beyond the boundaries of normal politics. In Trump’s America, all the civic customs and democratic traditions are for losers.
I now feel it in my bones: progress is not linear, our civilization can decline, and civic norms are artifacts of a kinder, gentler civilization. As the full impact of the policy agenda hits the bottom line for working class Americans and the lasting damage to the character of the culture in the Trump Administration unfolds, we will get to experience how fragile American democracy really is.
I hear the calls to ‘wait and see’ what the incoming Trump Administration will do. We don’t need any further evidence that Donald Trump is an unstable personality, unfit for the post of President, and allied with the worst elements in America. I do not contest the formal legitimacy of the deeply flawed and antiquated U.S. electoral system. Legitimacy is about more than meeting the minimal legal definitions. It is about the status of the President as a moral role model and a steady hand on the tiller of the ship of state.
There are genuine concerns about external monkey-wrenching of the U.S. election by Russian intelligence services and by an out-of-control government agency, the FBI, whose partisan insertion in the late stages of the campaign violated decades of precedent.
The most likely Trump Administration scenario is that he will abandon the white working class folks who voted him into office, and stage big ‘Make America Great’ rallies, while handing over administrative control to Vice President Pence, who will work closely with Senate Majority leader McConnell and House Majority leader Ryan to ram through the standard conservative Republican wish list. Tax cuts for the rich, environmental deregulation, privatization of public assets, shredding the social safety net for the vulnerable, you know, the usual failed policies of the plutocratic class.
The final blow to my political body was right here in Sonoma County, in the 5th District Board of Supervisors race. Progressive champion Noreen Evans (who has steadfastly worked for labor rights and environmental protections for decades) was defeated by the same moneyed interests that propped up outgoing Supervisor Efren Carrillo to start a political career out of nowhere. 2016 was not a good year. Welcome 2017!