|ELECTION DAY IS HERE. TIME TO FREAK OUT.|
|By Josh Abraham||
Well, we're here.
So long as nothing blows up at home -- please, please, please, oh God, please, nothing blow up -- life will be pretty much exactly the same tomorrow: healthcare, the economy, Social Security, etc., will all remain unfixable messes; abortion, gun control and gay marriage will still be social stalemates; and every other nation will continue to put up with America begrudgingly or not at all. Iraq will still be an officially declared "quagmire," and the phantom menace of terror will forever loom. No one will feel safer anywhere. And the doomsday clock will keep tick-tick-ticking toward midnight
And though everyone will go to work on Wednesday and think about the mortgage and try to remember if it's carpool day, we're freaking out hard on Election Day. Even if nothing changes tomorrow, it still feels as if we're on the very brink of the apocalypse, we've got the
Fate of Humanity in our hands. That's not a responsibility, real or imagined, that anybody wants, especially when we had a really hard time with the relatively simple task of counting ballots last time around. So the country is having a panic attack like a chick-flick ingénue, trembling, squealing, hands flitting in face, but ultimately frozen stupid by an emotional cocktail of fright / rage / dread / doubt / dismay.
Alas, there is no paper bag big enough to hyperventilate into. The very act of panicking is only making matters hopelessly worse.
We're as divided as possible short of civil war, and what's most frightening is that the division belies a sincere dislike between our left and right brains. Both parties have become fanatic in their rivalry, having redoubled their efforts to compete but also having lost sight of their aims -- it was to govern, right? -- and as a result it feels like the Republicans and Democrats are actually destroying democracy while supposedly trying to save it.
Meanwhile, the media is spinning out of control so fast you can feel the thrust of its centrifugal pull in your belly. Bias is actually being flaunted rather than suppressed, opinion masquerades as fact and newscasters' last scraps of credibility are being eroded by minutia as stupidly innocuous as superscript fonts and loofahs. In the vacuum once occupied by responsible journalism, the questions raised by the nation's satirists are suddenly making sense. (Behold: Wonkette, Get Your War On, Team America, "The Daily Show," The Onion's near-Pulitzer.)
And then there are polls, endless, endless polls that are contradictory and misrepresentative, yet still somehow become self-fulfilling prophecy. And the maps reflecting the polls in that fluctuating patchwork of red states, blue states and swing (flip-flop) states are stroboscoping quickly enough to trigger seizures.
All this, and when we finally get the opportunity to decide the course of world events, while exercising democracy in its purest form, we're stuck in an electoral jumble so retardedly unfair to everyone everywhere that nobody's vote really matters except for some lucky yokels in whichever battleground district becomes, by quirk of electoral math, the ultimate tiebreaker. And this whole time, we're all hoping nothing blows up.
Is it, in classic panic-attack fashion, our own damn fault that things spiraled downwardly? Despite all our duct tape, we're still at the mercy of grand forces beyond our control (Islamic fanaticism, oil, anthrax, chaos factor, oil, hurricanes, sharks, oil, the wrath of God). We try our best, and sometimes we're well prepared to handle these smiting blows, yet other times we remain helpless and hopeless.
We cannot so easily blame our anxieties on things we're powerless to prevent when we are too comfortable and lazy, despite all the crap, to fix or stop the problems we can (the media, the administration, the electoral process, the two-party system, the flu, uninspected cargo, unsecure borders, yellow journalism, smear tactics, Ralph Nader, dependence on foreign oil). Our malaise caused neglect, and things got screwed up so gradually the mass ineffectiveness became suddenly overwhelming.
There is no clarity of purpose on either side of the war or election (if those two can be separated) to bolster the will of the people, and as a result we're flummoxed, but not outraged. And, proving that the age of irony is indeed alive and kicking, in place of outrage, our journalists, pundits and comedians have all spent the last six months pointing out our outrage-lessness, which is easy to spot when contrasted with the truly outrageous surroundings. If there is any rage out there, it is so blurred and diluted by uncertainty that when Jon Stewart called bullshit on "Crossfire," it
Is America Depressed?
Behold the various defense mechanisms America utilizes to validate getting out of bed in the morning:
We displace our angers and fears of the Islamic world to France, because it's just so damned easy to hate the French: They're rude, snooty, cowardly, ungrateful and they smell like French people. But how angry should we be at somebody who tries to stop a war? Imagine that a cadre of Saudi terrorists toppled the Eiffel Tower instead of the WTC and, after kicking the Taliban's tail, France wanted to invade Riyadh. America would've put the kibosh on that in 30 seconds -- and not just because our leader is as chummy with the House of Saud as Chirac was with Saddam. We'd have stopped them because that's what friends are for -- to hold you back when you're liquored up and looking to hospitalize that smarmy jerk who's flirting with your ex-girlfriend. Instead, we treat the Frogs as if they oppressed their people, muscled the oil market, funded religious radicalism, and supplied goons to bin Laden. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, remains an "ally."
Watch any two opposing pundits commenting on whatever new talking point becomes that day's fixation. Both will pull tendons stretching for implausible reasons why Exhibit A is a good thing for their side and a bad thing for the other. Watch the administration give 27 different justifications for the war (as counted by Devon Largio, a student at the University of Illinois, in her senior thesis), and watch the critics find a way to dismantle every single one of them. Watch red and blue roommates squabbling over which news channel's bias is more tolerable. It all seems like we're following the tenet "No excuse left behind."
I'm not worried about the election, because I think the President is loathsome/trustworthy, and I'm confident the good people of Ohio agree with me. Also, I know Poland's No. 1 concern is the security of America.
The debates, the TV commercials and the punditry panels have all devolved into schoolyard jeers and taunts: "Flip-flopper!" "Your daughter's a lesbo!" "I challenge you to a duel!" Um, everybody's acting like children stupid children.
Imperialism? Occupation? Jingoism? An Orwellian clampdown on personal freedoms? These are all the earmarks of an evil empire. But, a country's gotta do what a country's gotta do, right? So, we "liberate"! We crank our superpatriotism up to 11, flex our military muscles and install a Patriot Act -- whatever blurry lines it takes to prove that America is the awesomest country every, and shame on you, you dirty, dirty traitor, for suggesting otherwise. And that's just the noisy sublimation. The subtler kind occurs when we want to hate our fellow Americans for being Jesus-freak rednecks or snobby big-city douchebags, but we instead pretend we don't get along because our political ideologies differ in regards to deregulation or tax plans. As if!
Yes, our national security is a little weak: INS mails Visas to dead terrorists, our borders are porous like Swiss cheese, and the FBI is desperately seeking Arabic translators. But that's OK, because we can shock and awe the shit out of anybody anywhere anytime. Ain't no one gonna mess with us now! America! Fuck, yeah!
We distract ourselves by dissecting the sniggling details because the larger picture is complicated or unsolvable; it's easier, and a lot more fun, to examine the box-shaped something on the President's back than to speculate why he's unable to answer a question with or without secret radio messages. No one knows what to make of his service in the National Guard, but we are certain that IBM Selectrics circa 1973 did have limited superscript-font capabilities, but not the ability to adjust spacing between letters. Intellectualization -- the preferred defense mechanism of bloggers.
was like a breakthrough on the therapist's couch.
It's quite possibly it is the uncertainty that is driving us bonkers. How does this thing turn out -- the election, the war, some soon-to-be-empty robes with natty stripes on the sleeves, the Rapture? The highs and lows of the campaign -- hauled to new zeniths and nadirs by capricious polling data and the media's newfound embrace of partisanship over objectivity -- only compound the doubt.
While the candidates waste time and effort bickering about tax cuts and stem-cell research, it becomes clear that all issues are tied for second-place behind the war. And the war itself, once ostensibly about fighting terror, spreading democracy, quashing weapons of mass destruction -- and also oil -- is now only about fighting the war. The clearest message delivered by the President during the debates was that to question, criticize or doubt was to flip-flop, and flip-floppers can't win. Of course, as we've learned from the other guy, you can be "certain" and "wrong."
Tomorrow, as long as the Florida's secretary of state can figure out how to work an adding machine, the uncertainty boil will be lanced and everyone should be able to calm down, if only slightly. The conflicting yet complementary emotions of anger and hope will deflate, temporarily, regardless of which candidate gets to muck up Iraq, the economy and everything else.
But what might not go away anytime soon is the tension headache we've given ourselves by aligning with gang colors. The use of red and blue to solidify one's views on everything from abortion to imperialism may seem like it has been here forever, but in fact was only used with widespread consistency beginning two elections ago. And it's the state of being red and blue that's made the other side an identifiable enemy, like summer camp color wars.
We're all stuck with each other, like wackily mismatched sitcom roommates. Conservatives and liberals, hawks and doves, faith- and reality-based communities -- but being any one yin does not automatically exclude all other yangs. You can't split 280 million people into two sides and demand each half to agree with itself. You can't even do that for 20 people and expect harmony on each side. That's half the fun of "Survivor."
However, there are only two possible outcomes to this election, and that unfortunate certainty forces a divide upon us where none should exist. Now half this country is furious about the way things are, and the other half is furious that there is an opposition to the way things are. The left thinks those on the right are a bunch of toothless hicks, righteous born-agains and Monty Burns-type robber barons. The right thinks the left are a bunch of smug, anti-God, know-it-all heathens. Right? Maybe. That's what we're told, anyway.
Scarily, most red-leaning voters are halfway-normal people. What gets the left so fahklempt is its inability to understand why any normal person would support such utter crap. The right, likewise, can't imagine why anyone would support such inconsistency during wartime. The depressing thing is that the bulk of both bases are clinging to either side, not in support of any policy, but out of raw, cold fear. The opposing viewpoint seems not just wrong, but crazily wrong.
Still, none of the social issues over which we hate each other are reflected in the charters of either party, which deal only in boring things like legislature, budget, and regulation -- things worth discussing without fighting. Both parties' ideologies seem like pipe dreams of hopeless optimists. The Republicans incorrectly believe everything is working just dandy, and the Democrats stupidly think things are fixable.
We, the people, are not quite as optimistic as either party, which is why we're freaking out. Confronted with the sheer ludicrousness and futility of the whole system, we just don't know what to do. Is there a solution?
Of course there is. There are many. Just none of them were ready by today. Instead, we'll watch democracy get schtupped once again by total freaking chaos, and we'll all burn out our panic motors from pathologically checking our information succubae, TV and the Internet, for constant, frantic updates of voters bullied, votes invalidated, ballots falsified, polls refuted, predictions rescinded, curses reversed, totals recalled, and the humiliating inability to count a finite number of objects separated into two piles -- with the crushing, anticlimactic bitchslap of a winner-less inconclusion, to be lamely haggled in Congress, the Supreme Court or the shadow government's undisclosed location, depending on how exactly things go FUBAR.
And, the voteless around the globe, upon whom we are trying to impress the merits of democracy, will be watching raptly as we struggle through the murky depths of freedom only to forget about it for four years, until all the ugliness sneaks up on us again.
Josh Abraham is an editor at Yankee
Pot Roast and is obviously very scared.