One of my favorite passages from The Man in the High Castle – in the previous scene, Tagomi has picked up an antique pistol and shot two German intelligence agents with lethal results to protect the life of another man. As a strict Buddhist, that Tagomi is struggling with what happened is obvious to all:
Mr. Baynes, seeing Mr. Tagomi distractedly manipulating the handful of vegetable stalks, recognized how deep the man's distress was. For him, Mr. Baynes thought, this event, his having had to kill and mutilate these two men, is not only dreadful; it is inexplicable. What can I say that might console him? He fired on my behalf; the moral responsibility for these two lives is therefore mine, and I accept it. I view it that way.
Coming over beside Mr. Baynes, General Tedeki said in a soft voice, 'You witness the man's despair. He, you see, was no doubt raised as a Buddhist. Even if not formally, the influence was there. A culture in which no life is to be taken; all lives holy.' Mr. Baynes nodded.
'He will recover his equilibrium,' General Tedeki continued. 'In time. Right now he has no standpoint by which he can view and comprehend his act. That book will help him, for it provides an external frame of reference.'
'I see,' Mr. Baynes said. He thought, Another frame of reference which might help him would be the Doctrine of Original Sin. I wonder if he has ever heard of it. We are all doomed to commit acts of cruelty or violence or evil; that is our destiny, due to ancient factors. Our karma. To save one life, Mr. Tagomi had to take two. The logical, balanced mind cannot make sense of that. A kindly man like Mr. Tagomi could be driven insane by the implications of such reality.
Monday evening's debate, about which there is little I can say that has not already been said or made obvious, was so hard for me to watch that I have a hard time putting words to my reaction. It probably is not apparent in a day and age in which patriotism is conflated with blind jingoism and outward, compensatory displays of masculinity involving guns, trucks, and military might, but…I really love this country. And since I was old enough to talk I've loved government and politics.
In kindergarten and first grade, my best friend and I took turns during recess playing Reagan and Gorbachev having a summit (I was weird). We alternated roles but still fought over being Reagan even when we knew it was not our turn. Before I grew into the eight cylinder bastard engine of cynicism I am today, I looked at elections the same way Catholics look at the Vatican. It was something good, something we could feel proud of. The older I get the more I see the inside of the sausage factory (and choosing to study elections for a living certainly accelerated that process) and the easier it is to be dubious about the motives of the parties involved and the fundamental fairness of the endeavor as a whole. But I haven't given up completely on them yet. Not quite.
What happened on that stage was more than just depressing to me. That inflicted a wound that is unlikely to heal soon and, I'm afraid, may be fatal for the hopes of getting younger people for whom this is their first election to care about this process. Not everyone falls out of the womb humming I'm Just a Bill; most people become young adults and then have to make a choice about whether or not politics is A Thing they will do. How many people checked out last night, and how many of them will never give it another try?
I have a multitude of amusing anecdotes I could tell about the explicit politics of my upbringing, but it was always, always emphasized to me that the process itself was good and had value and that even when your team doesn't win, it's still your country and you still respect that person who holds the office. You can complain about them a lot, but you never really lose. It's just that sometimes you don't win. No matter how vigorously we support Team GOP, the victory of the Hated Democrats was not a life altering calamity. The country is going to be OK because those people also want what's good for the country, they just have a different idea of what that is.
That is not how I felt on Monday night. I saw not only a man with whom I did not agree and who I think would be an atrocious president, but a man with utter contempt for the process itself even as he takes part in it. I knew that debate would be hard to watch; I had no idea it was going to be that hard. By the 60 minute mark I was looking for relief even though I knew damn well there was none to be found. It would only get worse, and the only point at which it would ever get better is when it ended. And now that it's over, everything still feels terrible. The only consolation is that Trump will almost certainly validate my earlier prediction by refusing to do another debate due to "bias" in the moderation.
The part that hurts is not that this is happening even though the people of this country do not deserve it. The worst part is knowing that we do. There is no hated monarch or foreign army to blame for this. We did this to ourselves because we embraced the right-wing fallacy that working toward a common goal will never succeed and instead we've thrown our lot in with nihilism. This goes beyond a statement of displeasure with Politicians and Candidates. This is the first step toward admitting to ourselves that a substantial minority of us see no value in elections and could do without them. Nobody who considers them valuable could watch this and tolerate it.