Posted by: Captain Easychord | November 4, 2008

Yours Truly, Angry Mob

The date was December 30, 1999. I was driving across the large, empty middle of Pennsylvania en route to Rhinebeck, NY to ring in the year 2000 with some friends. It was late in the evening and the hypnotic stream of painted lines scrolling underneath was enhancing the tired feeling I had after a full day of work. A number of road trips had taught me lots of tricks to stay awake while driving: continually checking gauges and mirrors, rolling down the windows, lollipops (much better than gum!). But on nights where you have to pull out all the stops – nights like this, the #1 best thing to keep yourself awake while driving is talk radio.

Talk radio also happens to be almost the only thing you can pick up over the airwaves in Central PA, so I scanned the channels and found a Philadelphia-based station where the host was talking about the impending Y2K disaster. Between the host and his callers, most people seemed concerned and pessimistic, but in a rather harmless and amusing way. Then one particular caller commented how he was ready with his litany of canned goods, bottled water and a shotgun with plenty of ammo, just in case someone came looting.

At this point, it may be worthwhile to note that I was working in IT at the time. I was fairly sure that when the clock turned to midnight in roughly 24 hours that nothing significant was going to go awry. I wasn’t worried about elevators shutting down, airplanes falling from the sky or anything like that. What did worry me, however, was how people would react to the occasion. Did people see this as a special time to be blowing shit up? Were people going to do crazy stuff like shooting up the neighborhood when a streetlight goes out? As I listened to the blasty-American on the radio going on about his survival setup, I couldn’t help but think that he could be a poster boy for my concerns.

Today, we’re just days from another looming disaster: the US Presidential election. Like its predecessors, this election really is the most important one ever. If your candidate (whomever that may be) doesn’t win, we’re all doomed… or at least that’s what they’re telling me. And as it was nearly eight years ago, it’s not the impending catastrophe of the wrong guy being elected that worries me, it’s the people and their reaction.

People see bias all over the media and they doubt the fair and accurate administration of elections. No matter who is elected tomorrow night, supporters of the losing candidate will feel disenfranchised and cheated. In light of the expected results, this is particularly true should John McCain win the election.  But no matter who assumes the Presidency in January, the opposition party will be take the President to task for every misfortune suffered (deserved or not).  In light of the past eight years, this is particularly true should Barack Obama win the election.

Some commentators have described the situation as a “cold civil war“… an environment where partisans treat their preferred party like a sports team and don’t talk to one another as much as they talk at, over or about one another. I actually prefer to think of the two major political parties not as sports teams – often collegial in their opposition – but instead as being more akin to gangs. Talk about the other gang without appropriate amounts of derision and invective, and you lose cred among your fellow gang members.

The devotion to these political gangs is similar to the faith some people place in religion… as though the politicians are holy figures themselves.  Each gang feels strong in the belief that they’re the righteous ones and their rival is the wicked. One gang says you don’t understand the problems because you’re living in a world detached from “real” America. The other gang says that you don’t get it because you’re racist.  Nevertheless, it takes two to tango and it’s easy to find both parties at fault.

The sad part is that it doesn’t have to be this way. I believe that the vast majority of Americans – Democrat, Republican, and otherwise – share the same goals and objectives: safety, security, prosperity, happiness, and well-being for everyone. The only thing disputed is how best to achieve those goals.  Unfortunately, the devotion to the means and the messengers is fundamentally misplaced by many.  It’s the ends that we’re all looking for.

So when a victor is declared in this election, bear in mind that the winner has positive objectives (OK, and a somewhat unhealthy desire to be President of the United States… but that’s somewhat unavoidable)… but also remember that the loser had the same objectives.  This isn’t the conquest of good over evil (or vice versa), it’s a referendum on means to the same end… and we won’t know if the future will work out well until we get there.

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