Election Day 2012 (My anti-rant)
Light is finally visible at the end of the tunnel. This year’s election madness is about to end. The polarization wrought by every major election can now give way to the normal polarization of everyday American life. As of tomorrow, I can quit being pissed off at people about their politics and just be pissed off at them for normal, run of the mill reasons.
But here’s a secret: I’m not that pissed off at anyone’s politics. I haven’t felt the urge to write about how everyone who doesn’t support my candidate is an anti-American moron. I haven’t posted insulting diatribes about the opposition on social media. I haven’t declared that if the guy I don’t support wins, my country is doomed.
According to my Facebook friends, everyone I know is a drooling idiot. This is because about half my friends are conservative and half liberal. The conservatives are convinced liberals want America to become a slightly less free version of Stalinist Russia, the liberals are convinced conservatives want to kill and eat minority children. I’ve spent the last six months ignoring inflammatory posts intended to prove beyond doubt that the other side is moronic/evil/dishonest/whatever. Some of these posts proclaim that America has never in its history been more divided. I’ve learned that the current president accomplished nothing whatsoever during his term, and the challenger will accomplish nothing whatsoever if elected. No matter who we elect, they’ll drive the country over the “fiscal cliff”. The situation is hopeless. We’re doomed.
Listening to a rabid supporter of either party is like listening to a drunk who just got beat up in a bar fight: Officer, I swear, all I did was walk up to that gentleman and say “Hello sir, how are you?” and he hit me for absolutely no reason. Just like the totally innocent drunk who did nothing to provoke a fight, true believers from both parties seem convinced their candidates stand for all that is pure and holy while candidates from the other side are the embodiment of hellish evil. President Obama is a halo-adorned saint, but Governor Romney truly wants women to be forcibly impregnated; Governor Romney feeds starving puppies in India in his spare time, but President Obama truly wants the American economy to collapse so we can become a third world country.
So here’s my take: this is a load of hysterical nonsense. Americans have never been more divided? Someone has to be kidding. I’m fairly certain veterans of the Civil War would dispute that, as would those involved in the shooting at Kent State during the Vietnam War. As a conservative, I don’t feel the slightest bit threatened when I wander among liberals, even when I’m in military uniform. This isn’t the 60’s. Nobody spits on me and nobody is shooting protestors. If this horrible rift in American society exists, it’s somehow been kept hidden from me.
I have serious disagreements with my liberal friends. I voice those disagreements and sometimes have heated debates. At least on my end, that doesn’t mean I value their friendship any less or consider them to be somehow less American than me. When did we decide we shouldn’t socialize with those who don’t hold our exact beliefs?
Recently I’ve had discussions with a couple of friends who are voting for the candidate I oppose, because of his support for gay marriage. I first disagreed with them on that issue, and while I can’t say I support gay marriage now, they made reasonable arguments that at least convinced me I shouldn’t oppose it. Maybe more importantly, even though it’s not as big of a concern for me, I definitely understand how crucial it is to them. It is their single most important issue.
We all have our single most important issue. For my parents it’s immigration, for many people it’s the economy, for many of my liberal friends it’s social justice. As I mentioned in my previous post, my issue is probably Benghazi. But even as important as that issue is to me, I know other people have different focuses and come from different backgrounds, and for their own valid reasons hold other issues to be more important. That doesn’t make them, in my eyes, any less patriotic.
Unfortunately, a gay friend recently posted an article that said “If you vote for the other guy, please unfriend me. I won’t associate with you if you oppose something so important to me.” I believe in free speech, but if we ever decide to do away with the 1st amendment I hope stupid posts like that are the first thing outlawed. This came from a guy I’ve known for almost thirty years, who I hung out with a lot when we were teenagers. He and I took divergent paths after high school and I haven’t seen him in decades, but if I were to see him today, I’d still consider him a friend. Whatever his politics, he’d still be welcome in my house, although he apparently feels the opposite way about me. I don’t agree with his vote on one issue, he therefore wants nothing to do with me.
I should clarify something here: when he says he won’t associate with anyone who votes for Governor Romney, I don’t believe him. I see more than a touch of internet tough guy-ism in almost every post that insults or ostracizes people with different beliefs. I’ll bet that back in the days when insults and ultimatums had to be delivered face to face, there were a lot fewer of them. But thanks to the wonders of modern technology, insulters and issuers of ultimatums can now get in people’s virtual faces without fear of having their teeth knocked out.
This technological protection has undoubtedly saved many sets of teeth, but it also leads good guys to say dumb things that they wouldn’t say in person. I am almost 100% certain that if this friend and I sat down together and talked, we would find common ground and preserve the friendship. And if we couldn’t find common ground, we could identify the limits of what we can and can’t talk about.
This whole “I don’t want people around who don’t agree with me” thing gets on my nerves, more so than any other aggravation associated with this election. It’s probably because it’s such a selfish point of view. The issues that drive my vote have to do with the safety and security of my wife and children. Some of them might have a direct impact on my survival. For someone to refuse to associate with me and dismiss what I hold dear, because it doesn’t align with what they hold dear, is pretty self-centered. And the same standard applies to me, when I assess the importance of what they value most.
Despite ideological differences, we Americans share way too many values to let an election fracture us. If the Taliban invaded America, Democrats and Republicans would be side by side, voting them out from the rooftops. Liberals would reload magazines for their conservative friends. Supporters of Governor Romney would build bombs with supporters of President Obama.
We need to remember that the worst Democrat candidate and the worst Republican candidate are still products of our culture and value system, they’re not two-headed aliens dedicated to the destruction of our way of life. I have more in common with President Obama than I do with an al Qaeda suicide bomber. My liberal friends share more traits with Governor Romney than they do with North Korean communists.
Therefore, I ask my friends and family, from all ends of the political spectrum, please chill the hell out. Drop the rhetoric. Realize that no matter who is elected tomorrow, we’re still citizens of the greatest nation that has ever existed in the history of the world. Our country can survive any one presidency, no matter how horrible you personally think it might be. For my liberal friends, we survived eight years under President G.W. Bush. For my conservative friends, we survived four years under President Carter. Another election down the road will balance out whatever injustice this election produces. The pendulum will swing to a side you favor, either tomorrow or within a few years.
For those spouting the “I won’t stand by and allow our country to be destroyed by the other party” comments (picture any number of small-minded political commentators from both camps), who truly believe some action needs to be taken against those with the audacity to not agree with their politics, please do something about it. And I don’t mean running your mouth on TV or the internet. Take concrete steps. Start a revolution. Call me when you’ve gotten your first confirmed kill. Until then, please tone it down.
Tomorrow evening, whoever wins, let’s take a moment to recognize the miracle of what just took place. Either a leader will be overthrown or a challenger will fail at his attempted coup. And it will happen without a shot being fired, without mobs of rioters breaking through the doors of the White House, without deposed leaders being hung from lamp posts. The mere accomplishment of a peaceful election, no matter how divisive we might think it is, could not happen in many countries. In some countries where it can happen, just a few years ago it couldn’t have.
On Election Day 2000 in Kosovo, I was confronted by a huge mob at a polling site who was convinced the military and police would arbitrarily decide to turn them away before they could vote. A few days before Election Day 2005 in Iraq, my team escorted the military convoy taking election ballots into Najaf. We wound our way past bullet- and RPG-scarred checkpoints, dodged burned out vehicles and passed under shadows of bombed buildings. Because we had the ballots, we expeced to be ambushed all the way in, and all the way out. On Election Day 2009 in Afghanistan, I watched a firefight between the Afghan Army and Taliban outside a polling site. Heavy gunfire crackled and RPG rounds detonated against the walls of a school where votes were supposed to be cast. The Taliban murdered voters on their way to the polling sites because they opposed the very idea of an election, regardless of the result. Needless to say, not many Afghans voted.
These things won’t happen here. We don’t need armies standing by the voting booth to protect our right to vote. It’s a free country, with fair and free (if not perfect) elections. Our elections don’t produce wars between opposing factions. And they shouldn’t produce manufactured rifts between countrymen with what are, in the big picture, extremely slight ideological differences. So let’s celebrate this victory of democracy and freedom together, shoulder to shoulder, conservative or liberal. Because no matter the result, a free election is a tremendous accomplishment we should all be proud of.
Filed under: Afghanistan, Iraq, Writing | 10 Comments
Tags: Afghanistan, Election, iraq, Obama, Romney