November 7, 2012
Something funny happened on the way to Election Day 2012.
In the final hours before the tally, when further argument was just noise, when there was nothing left but the waiting and the wishing and the muttering over Chicago's polling place confusion, a surprising number of people were transformed from angry partisans into philosophers.
I say this based on status updates from my Facebook friends.
One quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt: "Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a president and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country."
Another guy, noting that he was more excited than anxious over the campaign's outcome, likened the interminable campaign to holding a yoga pose for a very long time.
He quoted Rumi: "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there."
One friend found solace in the Bible's book of Psalms: "Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything."
Another turned to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
And one, apologizing that it seemed trivial, posted that she was dreaming of next year's tulips.
So many posts like this floated through my Facebook feed Monday night and Tuesday — the consoling, bipartisan wisdom of Kahlil Gibran, William Shakespeare, Winnie the Pooh — that I could only figure that posting such upbeat thoughts was a form of self-help.
As some philosopher should say, if she hasn't already: "'Tis better to remind yourself that life goes on, no matter who is elected president, than to go absolutely !@#$% nuts when it's not the guy you chose."
I've heard people claim that the campaign of 2012 was the nastiest ever. I don't buy it. Every campaign I've lived through has been branded by someone as the nastiest campaign ever.
Ronald Reagan vs. Jimmy Carter. Bill Clinton vs. George H.W. Bush. George W. Bush vs. Al Gore. To name a nasty few.
I remember them all, and though it may be true that the volume of nastiness has increased as the ways to broadcast nastiness have multiplied, none of them would win a medal for decency.
But I also remember something else about those elections. I remember that every single time, when the moment came to pipe down and vote, the ugliness was briefly suspended, replaced by the shared purpose of standing in a private booth and saying, in essence, "This, I believe."
It happened again this year. Millions of us flocked to schools, firehouses and churches to cast our vote, standing next to people who, for all we know, voted differently.
"Voted for an American president at the Islamic College on Irving Park Road in Chicago," reported a Jewish woman I know. "I love this country."
No matter how you voted, it was hard not to be moved by stories of superstorm Sandy victims who, no matter how they voted, did it in places without lights or used their precious gasoline to get there.
A lot of us spend a lot of time exercising our inalienable right to be politically cynical and enraged, and I'm sure that some of the Facebook philosophers are undoubtedly less mellow today now that Barack Obama has shown that his first election was not just a fluke of history.
But the arc of the moral universe does bend toward justice, and most of us will survive to vote again, and there are powers beyond politics.
The tulips always return, eventually.
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