They say that the early voting numbers are huge this year, at presidential-election levels, and that’s great. But there are still people who for whatever reason can’t be bothered. I write this column to them. If you know such a person, please send this along.
I hear people, mostly younger people, say things like: “I don’t feel like either party really represents me.” You know what? You’re right. They’re out of touch. The Republicans willfully so, because they really only care about you if you’re a) wealthy or b) a right-wing evangelical Christian (and if you’re one or both of those things, this column definitely isn’t for you). The Democrats basically because they’re a lot less disciplined and organized than the Republicans, and they’re kind of afraid of the Republicans.
And you can’t be blamed for being turned off by what you see when you do pay attention—a bunch of geriatric and mostly rich white guys who hang out at country clubs and fly around on their rich friends’ private planes and don’t have the first clue as to what your life is like.
You’d like politics to be inspiring. That’s how we’re trained to think. In school, they teach us about those great history-making moments—Washington resigning his military commission (which if you don’t know about you should, like immediately). Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. Churchill rallying the British people in the spring of 1940. John Kennedy inspiring millions of young Americans, and Barack Obama doing the same in 2008.
Our culture, our movies emphasize these moments too. And why not? They’re stirring moments. That movie last year about Churchill and the Nazis, Darkest Hour: amazing. Some of it was made up. He didn’t go ride on the Tube, sounding out regular Britons (least of all a Jamaican, that old racist). But so what? It was an incredible scene. The chest swells, you get goosebumps; it’s ennobling, and we love that feeling more than any other, except love.
But it’s a con. Politics isn’t usually like that. Those moments are exceedingly rare. Politics is often dull. Most of the actual work of politics would make for a terrible movie that no one in their right mind would want to go see. Two hours of people negotiating compromise language on electricity regulation. That’s politics, most of the time.
And I say to you: That’s as it should be, and it’s no excuse for being turned off. No aspect of life, none, is regularly inspiring and ennobling. Life is about patience and work and fighting through frustration. Family—work. Relationships—work. Work—work. There are moments of great joy, yes. They’re why we do the work.
And why should politics be any different? Why should politics be immune to the laws of life and the universe? It should not be. So politics, like life, is about patience and work and fighting through frustration.
Things don’t change overnight. If you don’t pay much attention, they may appear to. But when something changes, it’s generally because dozens or hundreds or thousands of people have been out there working and being patient and fighting through frustration.
You know about Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the “colored” section on that bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. Another great stirring moment, one sometimes told now as a story that just happened—that she decided one day she’d had enough and she just did it. In fact, it was the culmination of months of debating and planning by the local NAACP. There was even another woman who did it first, nine months before. But she was younger, single, more outspoken—and had darker skin. Local civil rights leaders didn’t publicize her arrest.
In any case, the moment was a year or more in the making. And during that year, nothing inspiring happened. A bunch of meetings. And probably death threats. But they kept at it. That’s what politics is. Keeping at it.
I think the political right is poisoning this country, but I’ll give them this much: They know the value of keeping at it. When they started organizing themselves politically in the 1970s, mainstream society thought they were a bunch of lunatics. Most establishment Republicans, like the president at the time, Gerald Ford, didn’t want to have anything to do with them.
But then Ronald Reagan came along after Ford, and he paid attention to them. Do you know why he paid attention to them? It wasn’t because he loved them. It wasn’t even because he agreed with them—he was anti-abortion, but by most accounts he was no zealot on the issue.
No—he paid attention to them because they voted. And they still vote today, in huge numbers. And they and their millions of votes are why Donald Trump is in the White House, and they’re why this country now has a solid Supreme Court majority that is going to overturn Roe v. Wade and turn the clock on civil rights and voting rights as far back as it humanly can.
And that’s why you should vote. You vote precisely because you understand that nothing is going to change for the better overnight. But your vote is one little link in a long, long chain, and if you provide that link, if you do your little part, others who think like you will too, and one day, after much patience and frustration, change will come.
You also vote to do your part to stop bad change from happening. That’s another big part of politics—playing defense. This, too, is unglamorous and uninspiring. But unfortunately, it’s where we are today.
If you’re young, if you’re a person of color, if you’re an LGBT person, if you value diversity, if you think we should treat even those who come across the border illegally in a decent and humane way, if you can’t believe hate-filled people like that Pittsburgh shooter can still go load up on semi-automatic rifles and walk into a house of worship and murder people, there’s a party that’s against you. It’s the Republican Party.
Individually, some of them may be, and are, very nice people. Any individual Republican might be more charismatic or better looking than his or her Democratic opponent. They may say—they undoubtedly will say—that they’re deeply concerned about college affordability or the opioid crisis or gun violence.
But no matter how nice their smile or pleasing their rhetoric, they won’t vote to do what’s needed to address any of those things. The Democrat in your area, in all likelihood, will vote to do something about those things. He or she may not be particularly inspiring, but I hope I’m persuading you that that’s close to irrelevant.
He or she will vote to raise the minimum wage, and the Republican won’t. He or she will vote to protect minority voting rights, and the Republican won’t. He or she will vote to try to put some limit on all these guns, and the Republican won’t. And he or she will vote against Donald Trump, and the Republican most definitely won’t.
So: vote. Vote for exactly all the reasons you think you shouldn’t vote. Vote because the Democrats are kinda lame. Vote because the candidate is no Barack Obama. Vote because politics is frustrating. Vote because change comes slowly.
Or just don’t think about those things, because those aren’t the things that really matter. This year, what matters is that there’s a political party that has no use for people like you and is headed by a racist hate-monger, and it and he must be stopped. And even if the Democrats take back the House, that won’t happen overnight. Nothing does, in politics or life. But that’s not a reason not to keep at it.