America: You Fogged the Mirror. Carry On.

Trust us, America, you’re going to feel a lot better soon. We’re going to elect better doctors. (Wikimedia Commons image)

Many years ago, as a young soldier (in civvies, but somehow they always knew) quaffing a few beers in a Georgia bar as far from the post as I could afford to get, I saw a young black soldier (in civvies, but I could tell) come through the door with a lovely date on his arm. She was white. Actually, blonde. I was sore afraid, and looked for a table to get under, envisioning the bar existing only as a pile of kindling when the riot was over.

As far as I could tell, not one person in the bar — remember I said it was far from the post, so it was not an all-Army crowd, but mostly locals — no one gave the couple a second glance or seemed to comment on their presence. That was in 1968, and it was then I began to rethink my easily-acquired caricature of Southerners as racist hicks. Having rethought it, and having similar Southern epiphanies many times over the years, I retained some faith in the decency of Alabamans, and became convinced they would not elevate the odious Roy Moore to the Senate of the United States.

I regret I did not have the courage to go on the record with my conviction before election day, or to commit more than a buck or two to a bet on the outcome, but I have become gun-shy about making predictions. But for the record, this is why I thought Doug Jones would win:

  1. The polls that showed Moore ahead, or the race too close to call, were deeply flawed, as almost all polls are today. Especially in an off-year, special election — and especially in Alabama — they are based on calls to landlines, which today skews the results to older, more conservative people who have not yet adapted to cell phones (let alone smartphones).
  2. One of the few journalists to actually visit Alabama before spouting off on cable television, an old Alabama hand at that, reported in a little noted observation a few days before the election that he had never seen so many yard signs out in any previous election. He estimated there were five time as many as in the last presidential election. And he added that every one of them he saw was for Doug Jones.
  3. Similarly, the few journalists who wrote about the campaign on the ground, instead of jawboning about a referendum on Trump, or a test for Bannon, or a revolution of women, or any of the other substitutes for political thought, described Jones’s campaign as a vibrant, well-organized ground game with its eyes fixed firmly on the prize — the identification and delivery of the next committed Jones voter. The other side was calling names, spewing invective, and invoking Jesus.

Thus Alabama demonstrated, just a month after Virginia demonstrated, that a strident minority of radicals will not necessarily win an election when moderate people understand its importance and manage to find the motivation to sacrifice the hour or so it takes to go vote. (This is what we are called upon to lay on the altar of democracy today — an hour a year of binge-watching reality TV.)

I know I will hear from commenters and others that I am hopelessly naive to think that voting makes a difference, that election are not all “rigged,” that we are not helpless pawns in a world run by the money, for the money.

It is true that powerful forces are working hard to defang democracy, to dilute the votes of the non-wealthy. From voter suppression to gerrymandering to super-pacs to fake news and back, the cudgels are large and wielded with abandon. Yet as depressed as you may become at how often they work, notice should be taken of how often they fail. The Koch brothers have lost an awful lot of elections in the past few years in which money (for their side) was no problem.

And then there is this: I am told often that one who believes as I do that the industrial world is beyond saving, is in reality in the process of collapse, has no business believing in, or participating in, elections. It’s inconsistent, I’m told, even hypocritical.

To which I answer: we all knew, all of us, before we ever learned anything about climate change or chemical farming or the end of petroleum, that on a day certain in the future we were going to die. We did not then curl up in a corner to await the inevitable, we resolved to live lives as good as we could manage and to greet death, on the day he comes, with dignity. That resolve should not — cannot — be changed by the simple fact that death is coming for more of us, sooner, than previously estimated.

It’s just a detail, like the date on which the sun will inevitably burn out. Carry on.

Carry on Alabama, and America, and every one of us, the best we can.

[YOUR COMMENT IS WELCOME: But please make it germane to the post, and limit yourself to one or two iterations. Thanks. ]


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12 Responses to America: You Fogged the Mirror. Carry On.

  1. CJ says:

    Those of us who have come to grips with the impending end of the industrial world have chosen to live our lives “as good as we could manage and to greet death, on the day he comes, with dignity” and not worry about the latest poll or argue endlessly with the other side about how one candidate in the vast morass of government is going to make a difference. We, or least I, would rather say you all go play your silly games; pretend that some 10 second sound byte or something someone did or said 20 to 30 years ago proves they are unfit for office in present day. That unlimited growth on a finite planet is possible – I don’t care to hear their justifications any more and will not give them the satisfaction of giving the appearance that I care who wins the next election.

    Perhaps, just perhaps, if a simple law that states all campaign contributions regardless of source or destination go into one big pool and all registered candidates will share this pool equally. Pac money, private donations, candidates personal funds used for campaigning, lobbying money and gifts – all of it.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      And what if — humor me here, what if — a campaign looked like it was on the way to providing Americans with universal, single-payer health care insurance? You know, for the interim. For example. Then would you play?

      • CJ says:

        The US is 20 to 40 trillion dollars in debt, how would we ever pay for universal healthcare? I liken the conversation of universal healthcare to that of peak oil. Before we could even wrap our heads around it, peak oil gave way to peak water. The need for universal healthcare is being surpassed by the need for universal basic income as our jobs are being automated away. So I guess my answer is no, its just one more trap to keep people playing the game.

        • Oji says:

          How is there an adult American still alive today– with internet access, no less!– who does not know that countries with universal healthcare typically spend far less per person on healthcare compared to the U.S.?

          Are there really so many rocks left to hide under in this day and age?

          • CJ says:

            I’ll be happy to say I was wrong if the special-interest laden US Govt can produce an equally efficient system as other countries seem to enjoy.

          • UnhingedBecauseLucid says:

            I think those countries, for the most part, built the system from the ground up right at the beginning of the post war glory days.
            Legacy systems have immeasurable inertia.
            Not saying it’s impossible, just saying aiming for it, or for the greater good generally, doesn’t *qualify* anyone for the presidency.
            The world is too complex now for well intentioned amateurs.

      • UnhingedBecauseLucid says:

        Personally, I will play when and ONLY WHEN the aspiring leaders will have demonstrated their FULL understanding of the [S]ituation.
        I don’t care if you got yourselves a law degree at Harvard despite being the daughter of janitor (cough… Ms. Warren…).
        I don’t care if you mean well.
        I don’t care if honesty is the only thing going for you.
        I don’t care if you said banks have behaved badly and that you want to give the working class 300$.

        I’m going to start caring about social justice issues only when it will help choose between two candidates that have demonstrated their FULL understanding of the [S]ituation.

        We are in an era where leadership of a country should require a MINIMUM amount of knowledge from the natural (hard) sciences; and a keen awareness of the way the history of economic thought led to the economic history that has unfolded.
        Sorry but that’s a fact; a fact you file in the same folder as morbidly obese people don’t make good gymnasts…

        Being a steelworker that, with a lot of work and steady dedication since 2008-2009, has filtered through the bullshit and finally came to understand with a curious mix of awe, disbelief,and contempt how fucking ignorant (and\or complicit in a frog boiling plot) the media and the politicians are, I therefore have absolutely ZERO tolerance for cluelessness now.
        It was lot of work and a lot of filtering to do — but I did it, and I sure as shit ain’t going to vote for someone who has the conceit to believe the economy just needs more justice and a few tweaks and that he\she’s the one who can do it, like he\she cracked the code or something…

        The first 45 sec. of this 1 min. clip evokes reasonably well the source of the problem.

  2. Max4241 says:

    You’re a good man, Tom Lewis. I wish you the best. Hope to see you on the other side.

  3. Tom says:

    Civilization turned out to be a bad idea. In the political sphere, it appears that psychopaths rise to positions of power then exploit their positions for self gain. In other words, since humanity failed to transcend our instincts, we’re doomed to the same fate as all the other species that went extinct, despite naming ourselves “smart” (twice)!

    Intelligence then, as Ernst Mayr pointed out, is a fatal flaw.

    Enjoy the time you have left. Live in the moment – it’s all we have.

    Thanks for all your writing this year, Mr. Lewis. From the enormous sea of interconnected topics swirling around, you highlight ones that make us think (or re-think) about it all. Best of luck in the coming year.

  4. SomeoneInAsia says:

    When Tzu-lu (a student of Confucius) was going to spend an evening at a gate, the gatekeeper asked him where he came from. “I’m from Confucius,” he replied. “Oh,” remarked the gatekeeper, “is he the one who knows that a cause is hopeless and yet still strives for it?” (Analects 14:41)

    Two hermits were cultivating their fields. Confucius happened to pass by in a carriage and asked his student Tzu-lu to ask the two where a nearby river could be forded. One of the two replied in mockery when asked, “He’s Confucius, so he should know!” The other said to Tzu-lu, “The whole world’s a mess, as though swept by a terrible flood. What can anyone do about it? As for you, instead of following one who flees from this man or that man (China during Confucius’ time was divided into many warring states, and he often travelled from state to state to offer the ruling feudal lords his advice on bringing peace to all under Heaven, only often to court their displeasure, whereupon he had to beat a hasty retreat), why not follow us, who flee from the sorry world altogether?”

    Tzu-lu returned to Confucius and told him everything. Confucius said sadly, “We can’t live like animals among other animals. If I do not associate with other human beings, with who or what shall I associate? And if the Way were to prevail in the world, then there would be no need for me to seek to change it!” (Analects 18:6)

    • Tom Lewis says:

      Love it. You are the only person I have ever known to give citations when quoting Confucius. You may call me Grasshopper.