[I haven’t blogged in a while because I’ve been too damned busy, but a recent Facebook exchange in which a friend boasted about never voting really set me off, and I need to vent.]
I wasn’t born an American; I became an American by choice. I grew up believing that there were no better ideals than those upon which this nation was founded. Hell, even when I was a little kid eating up the Superman mythos I marveled at the idea of truth, justice, and the American way, no matter how much cynics may sneer over the constant perversion and erosion of those values, myself included (and no matter how much the writer in me may dwell upon the true motivations of those who steer the ship called the United States of America). Cherishing truth and justice and pursuing happiness were good notions then and they are good ones now.
The greatest attributes America and her citizens possess are traits shared by too few other peoples in other places; court systems that strive for equality in dispensing justice, an almost religious fervor in preserving freedom of speech for all, and the right to make your voice heard through the power of your vote.
Many Americans also share attributes that the citizens of some other countries often lack, such as a love of the flag that borders on the fanatical, a relentless retelling of our own joyful, grim, daunting or liberating stories through every media imaginable, and a seemingly bombastic pride in this nation’s achievements (I am well aware of our abuse and slaughter of Native Americans and our enslavement of Africans, and I hope I don’t have to school you on the fact that every single nation that has ever prospered has done so through the pouring sweat and spilled blood of other peoples at some point in their history—we are all culpable in the mistreatment of others).
These traits are good and bad by degrees, but in short, I’d rather hang out (online or in person) with people who love their country, including friends in Canada, Scotland and Sweden, than those who hate their country.
Another trait that far too many Americans share is a blasé attitude toward elections and an apathy that results in inexcusably low voter turnouts.
If you care about your country, or if you care at all about your own destiny, and that of your family, friends and neighbors, you need to use your right to vote every chance you get. When you vote you exercise a rare form of free speech that many among us still have to fight to enjoy, and for a rare moment the power lies with the people, and not their elected officials.
To throw away that opportunity is madness.
That’s why I think everyone needs to speak up when they hear a friend or a relative or a coworker saying they do not plan to vote (the former can be expressed with confusion, rage and profanity, and the latter should only be discussed in the most diplomatic way).
Equally important is the need to stay informed. By the time of the 1932 Presidential election in Germany, Hitler (yes, I went there) had only sold a few hundred thousand copies of Mein Kampf, which could have been subtitled My Ill-Composed Path to Insanity because that poorly written screed laid bare a lot of Hitler’s fucked up aspirations. He didn’t win, but he received over a third of the votes in that election, millions and millions of votes, from an uninformed multitude of Germans, and a lot of German Jews. And with that election, Hitler got his foot in the door.
One of the great tragedies of World War Two is that the average German back then was just like the average American now. They loved their children, they worked hard, and they wanted to see their country prosper after the losses of the First World War. They wanted to ‘Make Germany Great Again,’ but who hasn’t wanted that for their country when things have turned to shit?
The last thing the German people wanted was an unhinged dictator with an insane agenda.
The problem was that they didn’t know how crazy Hitler was, at least not before 1933, when he became Chancellor and began changing the rules of the game. It wasn’t until Hitler really came into power that sales of Mein Kampf skyrocketed, mostly because Adolf made it required reading in his fledgling German Empire.
When campaigning, Hitler was nearly hypnotic in the rousing delivery of his patriotic appeals, and he had a freakish knack for pushing people’s buttons in his early speeches. In his later speeches most of the people listening to him were thinking what the fuck have we done, but it was too late for that. Their own ignorance had sealed their fates. If the populace had been well-informed back then, if they had all read Mein Kampf before 1932, history may have taken a different turn.
With the rise of Donald Trump we are seeing the triumph of ignorance in America, the crest of a tidal wave of stupid that has been building for decades through the inexorable spread of religious intolerance, xenophobia, and the shameful lack of adequate funding for some of our most valued citizens, our schoolteachers.
I am not comparing Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler; I don’t for a moment believe that Trump would ever advocate genocide or dream of building an empire beyond our borders. Yet I do believe that his apparently limitless ignorance, his self-centered bluster (which is not a purely American trait, if Kim Jong Un is anything to go by), his seething hatred and his unmanning fear of the unknown are as dangerous as a cache of nuclear weapons in the hands of a Putin or a Kim or any other of the 50 dictators in power today.
The damage a President Trump could do to this country is varied. No, he couldn’t initiate a nuclear war with American arms—Congress and the Joint Chiefs of Staff would never let him do that—but since he is an overindulged, petulant ten year old boy trapped in a man’s body I bet he could incite others to seriously consider launching those weapons at us. At the very least, electing a fog-horning, sexually insecure, misogynistic, boorish ignoramus to the office of President of the United States would be an embarrassment we would never live down. America will have pantsed itself in the eyes of the world.
The only way we can avoid having that happen is if every sensible American citizen takes a look at the issues—a task that has never been easier with non-partisan sites like http://www.factcheck.org/ offering balanced information—and then wields their right to vote.
The seawall built to hold back the aforementioned tidal wave of stupid is tragically weakened by the absence of every self-righteous liberal who won’t vote because they are convinced the system is rigged and a single vote doesn’t matter. They should know better.
It’s true that I should not be able to force someone to vote, but silence is no longer an option, not in this day and age. Stubbornly refusing to vote is as wrong as refusing to learn to read or write, or refusing to learn anything new, including learning as complete a story as we can about the people running for office, both those we favor and those we oppose. Abstinence from action is simply unacceptable in this day and age, if we are going to survive and thrive.
Refusing to learn about candidates and refusing to vote is sheer self-destructive ignorance. It is not a statement, it is a passive act of surrender; when you give up your vote and silence your individual voice, the opportunistic, the conniving and the black-hearted win. And we can’t let that happen.
I don’t care what your situation is; if you are physically able to do so, get your ass out the door and vote on Election Day. If you can’t do that, register to vote by mail, now. It’s no longer a choice; it’s an obligation to the past and the future, a duty every one of us shares.