POURING YOUR HEART AND SOUL

Posted in Rants on August 8th, 2016 by Ed

Of all the places a person could look for happiness and fulfillment, I can't think of one more likely to produce constant disappointment than the American electoral process.

Studying elections for a living has taken most of the shine off of them for me. As a kid they seemed like the most important thing in the world, and the process of voting was an almost mystical expression of rights inextricable from lofty concepts like freedom and justice. Maybe political science has reduced the moving parts involved to numbers, formal models, and abstract data points, but over time I've developed an outlook toward voting that is no different than paying the electric bill. It's a thing we do for practical reasons. You don't have to pour your heart and soul into it. It's not a goddamn spiritual quest; it's an election.

This presidential election appears to be bringing out the worst in the electorate in so many ways. One is the habit we have as Americans of thinking that our feelings are important in a process that is a practical and means-to-end oriented. My view is that the primary process is the time for big ideas, for hopes and dreams and attempting to steer the ship, so to speak. Once the primary process is over, voting becomes no different than picking a cable company. You pick the one that gives you the most of what you want at the lowest cost. And, like with cable and internet service, you usually have a very narrow range of choices. And you usually don't like any of them.

Now that I think about it, picking a cable and internet provider is more like American presidential elections than anyone realizes.

I didn't vote for Hillary Clinton in the primaries, where she was my second preference in a field of two. Now that process is over, and I have two choices. There are about four things about Hillary Clinton that I like and the rest crap. Trump is not merely 100% crap, he is the actual diametric opposite of everything I like. So, being a rational person who understands how elections work and that the rules of our process virtually ensure that only one of the major party candidates can win, I pick the one who gives me more of what I like. I could punish myself by writing in someone who isn't going to win (to extend the analogy, that would be choosing HughesNet satellite internet, which, for the record, is the most expensive and ludicrously bad internet service since the obsolescence of the 26k modem) but what would that accomplish. In the din of 100 million-plus people voting this year, the "message" of staying home or throwing away a vote on a joke candidate isn't going to be heard.

"But I don't like either candidate" is the background refrain of this entire election, and my reaction (at least internally) is always the same: Who cares? How often in life are you really making choices among great options? The mechanical process of choosing who will represent us in the various elected positions of power in the United States is important, but it's hardly a place to look for fulfillment and self-expression. You don't have to go down into the Fuhrerbunker because you don't like either the Americans or the Russians. You pick one to surrender to (probably the one that isn't going to shoot you on sight or ship you off to the Gulag) and go from there. In the end, too many people are simply too invested in a process that is not designed – not in the slightest – to fluff your self esteem and sense of self worth. If you can't make a choice in a practical decision-making process without invoking your integrity, pride, and self esteem, that says more about you than it does about the process.