Updated: Oct 25
Believing in America beyond the ballot
We Americans seem to be hinged on (and cringing over) the result of the upcoming presidential election. More than at any other time in our history as a nation, this election has taken on an existential significance. The least I could do, living in France, was to mail in my ballot, even though foreign mail-in ballots are not even counted until the election results are announced. So I voted in September, leaving plenty of time for the US postal system to dubiously dysfunction. Not only will my ballot not count on election day, but I believe the election result is of secondary importance.
Say that again? That's right, even though another Trump mandate may feel like the worst thing that could happen in the history of the universe, I am suggesting it is of secondary importance. Well, what the hell, might you ask, could be of greater importance?
Let us look eye to eye at the current democratic dead-end. The grave problems facing America as well as the world that its leadership has largely shaped over the past century, are not the result of Trump's four-year circus act. The cataclysmic crescendo he has created may subside if he dissolves into oblivion, but our collective crisis will remain ever so present. The expectation that his defeat will somehow deliver us is an illusion.
How is it that we Americans, with the greatest level of material wealth in the history of the world, and with the greatest degree of freedom ever enjoyed by any people, have chosen to degrade our health and well-being, leading to annual healthcare spending of 3.5 trillion dollars (the highest in the world)? Our diet competes with the worst in the world, and our consumer championship has contributed more to the destruction of the natural environment than any other free country. It does not require ground-breaking scientific research at Harvard to understand that the degradation of the natural environment also degrades our health and happiness. Was it the Republicans or the Democrats who coerced us into eating coco-puffs and drinking coca-cola? Neither. Who is responsible for externalizing environmental costs from the macroeconomic equation? Capitalists and communists alike.
So it is also, that the most serious crisis awaiting Americans and all of humankind is not Covid19, but the preservation of the very conditions necessary for human life on the planet: freshwater, clean air, proper food for all inhabitants, and eco-system equilibrium. Everything else should logically take a backseat to this ultimate existential challenge, including universal health care, tax inequality, the second amendment, and yes, even the messianic Covid19 vaccine. Our crisis is systemic and beyond political divides. Neither party is entirely responsible, and neither has an adequate solution. Frankly, we'd be better off electing a native American president who would at least understand that we are nothing without the preservation of our land.
There is one person, however, without whom this crisis would not have been possible, and that is you. Yes, you. I don't mean to suggest that the tons of waste you and I in particular produce have brought us to the brink of destruction, but I do mean that a few billion people making those very same choices have brought this upon us. What's the point in blaming your elected politicians? We did it to ourselves. We elected leaders who believed more or less the same things we believed. Were they not all American Bible-bearing believers? Our leaders represent us, just like Muslim leaders represent Muslim countries, post-Communist dictators represent the Russians, and a bona fide Jew calls the shots for Israel. Trump also, is a true effigy of millions of faceless, forgotten Americans. However grotesque, he is a parody of much that Americans pride themselves on.
We did it to ourselves. We made use of our liberty like a bunch of beer-guzzling, self-indulgent, blind-folded teenagers. We got into the driver seat of a shiny new blue bus and told the world to hop on. We proudly pushed the pedal to the metal, squashed the natives, and made millions on everything we could possibly invent without regard for the consequences. Now, we've come to a sharp bend on the road with nobody behind the wheel.
If preserving the very conditions for human life required scrapping the constitution, the gospel, and our group identity, how many of us would be willing? Would we not rather die and condemn our grandchildren to oblivion rather than renounce a single one of these beliefs?
Has such willful ignorance ever been so widespread, at a time when knowledge has never before been so accessible to all? Surely, this is the defining paradox of modern America.
The good news is that the treatment of this deep social disorder is possible on the individual level. This means that the election results are secondary to our individual power. What is it we can do, beyond the ballot?
Let's stop feeding the beast, that amorphous system of things behind all that's wrong with the world. Stop buying products that pollute; stop working for companies that produce or promote them; stop investing your retirement funds in them.
Let's stop worshipping at the altar of our beliefs, and focus on making life more pleasant for ourselves and those around us.
Let's stop opposing everyone who thinks differently from us and instead pursue our own dream for a better future. Sure, if someone is trying to kill you, by all means, do what you need to save yourself and others. But you don't need to go on for a lifetime ranting and revenging. Likewise, even though we may need to get the madman out of the missile-control room, it's pointless to write reams about how despicable he is. Hollywood cinema needs villains to make blockbuster films, and he has been a brilliant actor for the role.
Focusing on our individual responsibility will also serve to mend the gaping partisan divide that has again brought us to the brink of civil war. Better things will indeed begin to happen when we divert our energies from trying to oppose someone else, to doing whatever good we can do ourselves.
The bad news is that nobody seems to know how to get a few hundred million people to rapidly and radically modify their beliefs and behaviors. Our fate dangles precariously between the good news and the bad news. The thriller of the century is not who will be elected on November 3rd, 2020, but rather what Americans will decide to do with their individual lives. There is no convincing evidence that things will turn out well, nor is there certainly that things will end badly. This is no Hollywood production but is indeed the greatest American movie ever: the thriller of absolute freedom.
To be the hero of this thriller, you need not set out to save the American republic, nor capitalism, nor the constitution, nor democracy, nor liberty, nor the pursuit of happiness. What you need is to properly exercise your inalienable and most radical freedom: to make your experience of life beautiful within yourself. The natural corollary is to stop making life miserable for others. From this ever-so-simple, yet infinitely elusive first step opens a vast horizon of hope.
In my book LVX by LEO, I further develop the priority of individual action as a first step to creating a better world that is within our reach.