Reasons to Not Despair

This is what the title says, friends. If you’re not feeling tempted toward despair by the close election results, this may not be what you need to read today. If, however, you’re disheartened by the vote being this close, this is for you.

I’m not here to tell you the United States isn’t racist, sexist, classist, homo- and transphobic. It is. Many of these are founding principles of the U.S., written into our constitution. And it’s good that we’ve spent much of the last four years refusing to let the well-meaning people around us deny that fact. It’s good that more of us are refusing to allow people to duck the social and political consequences of that. It’s good that we’re tearing the wallpaper off these cracks, because we can’t fix them until we do.

It’s less good that we’ve allowed the outcome of this election to stand for America’s willingness to address these problems. This particular election is critical because it determines whether voters still have any power to address them. It isn’t the last word on our thoughts or feelings. There’s far more going on here.

This election reflects:

  • The Electoral College
  • Voter registration purges
  • Voter registration restrictions
  • Disenfranchisement through the criminal justice system
  • Insufficient resources dedicated to voting
  • Changing election rules due to the pandemic
  • Changing election rules due to court challenges, some of them last-minute
  • Real and threatened violence aimed at voter suppression
  • Disinformation campaigns aimed at voter suppression
  • A well-funded disinformation industry, including a top news channel
  • Foreign interference
  • A news media unprepared to cope with lies on our current presidential scale
  • A news media unaccustomed to naming bigotry
  • A news media scared of being called liberal
  • A shrinking, increasingly centralized news media
  • Political identities at odds with voters’ support for policy
  • Panic and exhaustion
  • Poor public political education
  • A long cultural trend saying nihilism and cynicism = cool

I’m missing things. I’m tired. But the point is that this is a huge system with a lot of moving parts that chews up public opinion to eventually spit out a result having more or less to do with that opinion. The result is not public opinion itself.

Many of the parts of that system are racist, sexist, classist, homo- and transphobic because they were set up to be. We know this. We talk about this. We don’t so much acknowledge that this means they’re going to produce results more bigoted than we are as a group of individuals. They’re ours, and we bear responsibility for them, but they are not us.

We’ve made some progress on them over the last four years. We’ve also lost ground on some of them, like the courts. We have so much work to do. This election isn’t about whether we’ve done that work. This election is about whether we’ve done enough to be able to continue. That’s the part to focus on today.

Reasons to Not Despair