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What This Election Taught Us

About politicians and citizens. ...

October 16, 2016

Because I am still registered to vote in Yates County, New York, but work in Massachusetts, I voted last week when I went home to the Finger Lakes. I couldn’t fill out that ballot fast enough. Nor am I alone in wanting this election to be over. As Trump does his own imitation of James Cagney screaming manically from the water tower “Made it, mom, top of world” before meeting a certain political death, I reflect on a few lessons this election season has taught me.

 First, although in general I prefer our democratic republic to a parliamentary system, the United States should take a page out of the United Kingdom’s book about brief elections. These past two years have been exhausting and wasteful in so many ways: money first and foremost; media focus and the public’s attention not least, given the impact on citizenship.

Second, we learned something in the choice of the candidates, a contrast that is revealing. Clinton, the consummate insider, demonstrated to many people’s distaste the core problem with party politics:  it dominates and distorts what most people want. Not a party machine effectively making the decisions years in advance of election day but candidates who listen and are prepared to act in the people’s interest. About Trump the lesson reveals something about ourselves. We confuse entertainment with politics. This time it was almost to our detriment, but don’t think for a minute that this will be the last. A much less damaged individual could well emerge next to take advantage of the media glitz. Thought leaders and educators should accept the challenge to reset our culture’s compass.

Third, another weakness in the voting public has come to light. If it is not entertainment they want, then many would appear to prefer a religious experience. Charisma comes from Ancient Greek meaning favor and grace. While commonly it is used in the sense of a “compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others,” it retains its older definition of “divinely conferred power or talent.” Trump as an enthusiast has it, even though a profound lack of self-awareness caused him to squander it. But my overall question is why do we want it? Don’t we know enough about charisma’s trappings to get beyond it? Why do we expect a religious experience from the dirty business of politics? Not really fond of the movie Moonstruck, I nonetheless hear Cher’s character demand that Nicholas Cage “Get over it!”

Fourth, of all the foibles that Trump exposed, the one about sexual assault may be most enduring and important for all of us. Not only for women and our daughters, but our fathers and husbands, brothers and sons need to know about this factor in so many women’s lives. At age 58, I will now add my name to list of women who have kept silent about sexual abuse like this for decades. From someone who approached me when I was 12.  I went to a priest for help and he told me I must have asked for it.  A doctor started kissing me during an examination when I was 17. When I told my mother, she said "now you know why I haven't been to a doctor in 20 years." There was the history professor at a conference party who groped me on the dance floor when I was a graduate student. I stand with the "enough is enough" campaign. And I admire Michelle Obama for so moving inspiring us to speak out.

Fifth, it is essential that people participate in the political process. Most readers of this blog are among the converted. Your task is to teach, inspire and help those who are not. Notwithstanding political corruption, both legitimate (overarching lobbyists) and not (well, now with Citizens United decision it is hard to imagine when it is not), the political process is still one that comes down to the ballot box. If Sanders and Trump taught us anything, it is that every person’s vote counts, even people who believe themselves marginalized politically or outside the body politic. Mere criticism won’t help (that was one of Trump’s greatest faults); cynicism means you have given up. Get in the ring and fight, fight for your rights as a citizen and with compassion for those who never found or have lost their voice. If political engagement has anything to do with religion, let it begin inside your own heart. Don’t wait for someone else to charm you, galvanize your spirit.



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