This last week I heard from a few friends and family about their genuine stress and fears about the upcoming presidential election. Their choices, they feel, are so bad that no matter which candidate gets elected, our country will go to hell in a handbasket within a few months.
While there is certainly reason to be concerned about the state of our nation, I don’t think we’ll wake up to a nation in crisis on November 9. Although we have big things to worry about, they are much more boring and insidious than the Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump match up.
But first, why I’m not worried:
- Trump isn’t going to win. Maybe he’s your go-to candidate because Clinton is so bad, that’s fine. I won’t argue with you why a President Donald Trump would terrible for the nation (starting with Newt Gingrich, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani and Stephen Bannon) but we can be sure voters will both not turn out for Trump and also show up for Clinton. How come? We’re a centrist nation, and we’ve never once made a radical choice for president. No matter how many emails Clinton might have hidden, Trump’s misogyny is a bridge too far for America.
- Clinton is a centrist and more reasonable than you think. Her record contains barely a single radical act, and since she finished law school, she’s become increasingly conservative and consensus-seeking. If anything, Clinton might be faulted for not getting to the front of changing public opinion fast enough (e.g. voting for Iraq invasion, hesitating to support LGBT marriage). In my past political career I worked for and with some of her top leaders, and I know them to consensual centrists too. Like follows like.
- The anger fomented by this campaign season won’t last. Resistance/protest movements need focal points to last. Most of the angry people we see at Trump rallies are fueled by being at a rally and the conflicting stakes of an upcoming election. As soon as the campaign finishes, we’ll experience a gradual decline of political news, with a brief perk again around Inauguration Day, but a complete disappearance by next summer. Yes, the issues of economic stagnation will still be present (especially for poorer whites), but President Hillary Clinton will likely throw herself into addressing this problem immediately. She and her team are smart enough to know that unless they do some real work to solve the economic problem, Democrats will lose 2018 and she’ll likely lose reelection in 2020.
- We’ve been through much worse than this and managed to come out stronger.There is no question, our nation is under trial today. Our national and global economy has shifted, our ability to communicate and know more about each other has increased exponentially and the rights of previously suppressed peoples (women, minorities, immigrants) have risen enough that they are now taking their rightful places at the table. This is a lot to digest in such a short period of time and change always causes disruption and unease. But we’ve experienced similar, if not greater disruptions before, and came out OK. The labor and progressive movement at the turn of the last century saw huge riots and the national guard shooting down hundreds at a time. So did the civil rights/anti-war movements of the 1950’s and 60’s. The Depression saw massive migrations and shanty towns and the Civil War sent hundreds of thousands into a meat grinder of death. America got better and stronger each time. This election is paltry in comparison.
So, we’ll survive this election season just fine. Yet, we have much bigger, long-term problems with the potential to do serious harm to our nation.
- The culture of compromise in politics is dying.Unless you live in a hole, you know what I’m talking about. The genuine willingness to give-in and provide the other side enough rope to either hang themselves or climb the mountain is creating a death of a thousand cuts for our country. Yes, we’ll lose some sacred cows, but maybe we’ll gain some solutions.
- We increasingly see government as an impediment, rather than an opportunity to serve. Even if you’re a conservative believer in small government, you can still recognize that a government servant can better your world. Whether it’s as a public school teacher, an urban planner or a state’s attorney, government employees help build better communities and country every day. As a one-time federal employee, I found my work tremendously rewarding and was buoyed by working with so many other dedicated public servants (even as we all negotiated around deadwood bureaucrats). Until we return to believing government servants can be helpers, we’ll be holding ourselves back from greatness.
- There is a widening chasm between haves and have-nots. Much of Trump’s support comes from a growing number of white have-nots. But have-nots come in all colors with consistent themes: Lack of education opportunities, lack of access or transportation to good jobs and poor health care. 22% of all American children live in poverty while we have a record number of millionaires. Whether the solution is increased government handouts or more volunteer efforts, we’re far from doing or thinking enough about these problems.
So, regardless if you’ve voted already or you have yet to vote, take a deep breath and don’t worry about what will happen November 9. Instead, roll up your sleeves and commit yourself to fixing the deeper, cultural issues we struggle with.