May 12, 2020
We as a country seem to be entering into the phase of emergency where there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully it’s not a train. This is a bit of a conflicted opinion-- if you ask ten people the how and when and where we should end quarantine, I’d expect to get ten different answers ranging from “ending it now means you want to die and kill everyone around you” to “it’s gone all too long already let’s get back to being American.”
A good thing, though, about this worldwide pandemic has been the hushing of the hysteria and cacophony that normally buzzes around a United States general election. We’re supposedly electing a new president in November and I’ve heard almost nothing about it. As someone who stopped listening to NPR two months before the last election until it was over (after I noticed myself white knuckling the steering wheel while two nameless pundits argued the same points yet again), this is a blessed relief to my head.
This really does seem like the least publicized election I’ve seen. Grain of salt, here, since there’s only been a few general elections since I’ve been an adult. I will cavalierly assume that my experiences reflect many other peoples though and assume that I’ll probably hear about it if I’m wrong. And it feels wrong, off-kilter somehow that I see this as such a great turn of events. That I’m so happy to not have to listen to the back and forth of people who don’t actually care to hear each other.
I vividly remember the 2016 election, of hearing the fiery arguments of people who seemed to want the same things but were totally unable to reconcile their differing views of how to achieve the same ends. We all want the possibility of building a better life for ourselves and our children, and to see our communities around us thrive. But the thousands of details that are included in that dream have become so emotional, so unwieldy that tackling the running of the United States seems like staring up at a mountain and hoping to move it. With a single chopstick.
Particularly the hot-button topics, the ones at the top of party platforms because they can be broken down into simple slogans. Abortion, with “Right to Life” and “Right to Choice” at it’s core is a disconnect between the focus of care. Pro-abortioner’s focus on the mother, on improving her life by allowing her the option to not give birth. Anti-abortioner’s focus on the child, who is being killed even though that child has done no crime. This then leads us into our next fuzzy issue—namely, when does a life become a person? Finally, we land on the issue of personal freedom within the abortion issue. If I value the child’s life but also value freedom, one of the highest A
merican ideals—which do I value more? Essentially, do I vote to support life, or do I vote to support people’s freedom to choose for themselves? Life vs. freedom, both of which are things that America prides itself one and now feels forced to choose between.
This is just one of innumerable questions that face our country, one question which has become so ingrained with existing opinions that it seems simple and I wrung a paragraph out of it. Multiply this by thousands
and we have the chaos of two parties hollering at each other until blue in the face with wild policy changes every few years and those who are too overwhelmed or feel the weight of their own ignorance tune out the yelling while we quote tiktok to each other.
Directly after Donald Trump won the 2016 election, author John Green posted a youtube video with his hot take of the election. He says:
“I spoke with hundreds of undecided voters in the days before the election and what struck me most was how different our information was. In many cases we had the same concerns: the environment, or health care, or tax policy but we were working with completely different data sets.”
This scares me the most of all—the disconnect between the two groups in our country and the ever-widening gap that I worry will soon become totally unbridgeable. In the beginning of the coronavirus, I felt a unity with the entire country as a nation united against a common enemy. As our days of quarantine seem to be coming to a close that has firmly and quickly ended, and the riots and fighting over wearing masks and opening public places leave me again with the instinct to just recoil away from both those on the far right and the far left. The internet, which for a bit was totally taken over by the virus, is back to being a middle school school bus with the kids in the back sniping with the kids in the front. And of course, everyone is online all day, all the time and seeing news and views that reflect their own as the algorithms behind everything we do provide us information that reflects back the views we already have. Almost by no fault of our own, we each are shown a world that has been slightly tweaked to match our views, the attitude that “I am right and here are all the people that agree with me and you who think something different are not only an idiot but also should probably just go die.”
America is so accustomed to being a two party system, like two rivers that have flowed for so long that they have dug themselves into the bedrock of the earth that any change would both require and cause a monumental shift in the landscape. The staggering amount of resources that flow into the Democratic and Republican parties, the years and careers that are invested—are we at a place where we, as a country who won independence by thinking outside of the box, are unable now to change. George Washington in his farewell speech warned against the forming of such ingrained political parties, saying: “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.” And went on to warn against being too excessively dedicated to the political party over the nation as a whole. I don’t have solution to this, but I would be thrilled to hear this kind of discussion on NPR and online instead of once again seeing someone be called a libtard or a racist a**hole.
In my tenth-grade social studies class we studied empires, focusing on the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Mongols. Towards the end of the section, we were taught that empires typically last around 300-350 years (I know not all empires. Just go with me here and accept that this is an average number). We learned that empires are typically not ended by just one thing, that historically it has taken both internal and external stresses to crumble an empire. Things like a floundering economy, being overstretched in war, and an environmental or health crisis for example. Sounding familiar? The teacher, a bouncy woman in her early thirties, pointed out to the class that the US is about 250 years old, meaning that we are nearing the end of a typical empire life span. So this leaves the question—is the United States an empire?
As we hopefully getting over the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, these are the thoughts I’m left with, with no clear answers. One thing’s for sure though—I will be perfectly fine to never live through another historical event.