Many years ago, I wrote a poem which started, We meet here every year on New Year’s day, New Year’s day.
This poem has been running through my head for weeks.
Last year, for President’s Day weekend, my husband and I visited Washington DC. We took the early train down on Saturday morning, left our bags at a hotel near the station, and set off to explore. We couldn’t help but be impressed by the majestic buildings that lined the mall, the sense of planning behind everything: Lincoln, from his seat at one end, looks towards the Washington Monument, which is visible from almost all the major landmarks. You can see it from the Capitol, you can see it from the White House. You can see it from the Jefferson Memorial. A tribute to the first president who, when his term was up, retired quietly to his farm in Virginia because it was the right thing to do. Jefferson, from his memorial, gazes across the water at the white house and the words carved on the wall behind him, talk about the importance of balanced powers and the obligations of the presidency. (I did a whole post on the symbolism, if you want to read it.)
We were inspired and wondered how anyone could come to Washington and not feel uplifted and inspired to uplift democracy, to make the world a better place, to do the right thing. Even the White House stood firm as if to remind us that it had stood for 208 years and would keep standing until it had another occupant.
Flash forward a year. The mall is closed off. Fences and the national guard surround the Capitol. Everyone is on edge, as plots and foments surge through the ether, unseen but hinted at. My husband immediately thought of the Madison papers – don’t ask me what they’re called, I don’t really care, I just think it’s cute that he is so into the continental congress and the early establishment of the American government. He is really familiar with these papers because he even listens to them when he has trouble sleeping.
Anyway, he says that Madison commented that there will always be crazy people, the fringe, who will want to pull down and destroy the union; but not to worry because they would be spread across great distances, unable to find each other, to unite, to form plans and build coalitions that could threaten our government, the will of the people, the majority rule.
Thank you, social media. Thanks a lot.
But despite all this, I remain hopeful, shovel in hand as I dig through the stables, searching for the pony that I know is under here somewhere.
I remember the early morning light, the pink glow on Lincoln’s face, the reflection on the pool at his feet, the golden glow of the capitol.
Surely, with all this beauty in the world, right will prevail.
Today is a new beginning. A chance to put right what has been put wrong. To protect the defenseless, to cure the sick, to promote life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I don’t believe in a higher power that grants wishes, that steps in to correct wrongs that we have inflicted on ourselves. We have free will. We are alone and have to do it ourselves. We have to step up and make things better.
We have to hold accountable those that promote hate. We have to clean our houses. We have to make peace with our neighbors even if they voted differently than us.
When I was working the election last year, I was appalled by the number of voters who told me they were voting for Trump – people that were harmed by his policies, deliberately harmed, felt compelled to tell me they were voting for him. (The Biden voters quietly voted, sighed, and left.) But I didn’t hate them. I felt confused by them, but most of them were sweet old ladies who clearly watched too much Fox News and lived in a world of fear, created by him, that they hoped he would save them from.
And, as much as I disagreed with their choice, I would never have done anything to sabotage their vote. When they showed me their ballots – make sure I did this right: my vote has to count! – I politely pointed out the extra bubbles they had filled in or that the machine wouldn’t read the giant X or the circle around his name. I helped them cast votes that I disagreed with.
Because that’s what democracy is about.
Everyone has a right to vote, everyone exercises their right to vote, every vote counts. And then you tally up the results, cross your fingers that your guy won, and either sigh in relief or in resignation when the results are released. Sure, maybe you put on your pink hat and march through the streets, showing that you disagree. And you may mutter to yourself through the news. Or force your sister-in-law to declare a moratorium on political talk at the Thanksgiving table. (Yes, yes, we get it, he’s not your president. Only he is; we’re stuck with him until January 2021.)
But you don’t shout out that he’s a liar on the floor of the Congress during the State of the Union. And you don’t break into the Capitol, hunting politicians who threaten to certify the vote. You don’t bring ridiculous lawsuits that tie up the courts and get thrown out – every one – because of lack of proof. You don’t accuse people who are doing their civic duty by helping people vote in a pandemic of fixing the vote. You don’t attempt to disenfranchise those who voted differently from you.
You sigh, you remind yourself that there is another election in four more years.
And you hope the guy who got elected can run the country successfully – maybe, if you pray, you pray for him to succeed, because an unsuccessful president results in a country where millions of people are out of work, where violence and unrest and mean-spiritedness hunt through the streets, where illness sweeps the land and people are unable to get the help them need, where armed militias plot to kidnap and kill elected officials, where the rest of the world looks on, aghast, at our incompetence as a nation, and our competitors on the world stage take advantage of our distraction and our self-absorption, to position themselves for strength.
I have to say that I’m ready for government to return to being boring.
I wish Joe and Kamala the best.
It is our job as Americans, even if we didn’t vote for them, to wish them well.
Because wishing them well, wishes our country well.
And it could use all the well-wishes it can get about now.