I’m having a very hard time here at LivingSmall believing that Yes, We Can indeed do it this year, that we can vote a “transformational” leader into the White House. Despite the newspaper endorsements, despite Colin Powell’s strong endorsement, despite the 100,000 people gathered beneath the St. Louis arch — I’m fighting a nagging sense of despair.
The racism on display at the McCain rallies is so … what? horrifying? frightening? appalling? The open calls for violence, the gleeful finger-pointing and sneering claims that everything is just fine in America, that our wars are just and our financial system is not collapsing are so crazy that I find myself sinking beneath the weight of it all. It makes me wonder if this is what it felt like in Europe in the 30s, watching crazy leaders like Hitler and Mussolini rise to power.
It is my fervent hope that the numbers hold, and that Americans finally reject these politics of hatred and division. It is my fervent hope that we figure out a way to build an economy based not on geometric unsustainable growth (“the economics of the cancer cell” as Ed Abbey named it) but on some saner measure of growth, some sustainable model in which the income gap between rich and poor begins to shrink again and we see some way to rebuild our middle class. It is my fervent hope that we somehow manage to build a civic society based not on what divides us but on what unites us.
But in these last days of the election I am not as hopeful as I’d like to be. The forces of darkness that the powerful and entrenched are unleashing are very frightening to me. The financial crisis seems thus far only to be hurting the poor, who are being evicted from their homes (often, as in Chicago, from homes which they have been renting in good faith), while the rich seem to have figured out a way to back a truck up to the Treasury door to save their own untenable lifestyles. The calls from the right for voter disenfranchisement, the early stories about rigged electronic voting machines in West Virginia, the coordinated efforts to deligitimzie an Obama victory, these are all very frightening and disheartening.
I’ve been pretty sanguine until this past week or so. I always thought Obama would win, even way back when most of my friends were Hillary supporters. He won Southern Illinois, I kept telling people. Southern Illinois!? Not exactly territory for a Chicago black man with a weird name. But that wasn’t a race where he had a real opponent, and this time he does, not in McCain so much, but in the entrenched elitist core of the Republican party, that core who believes that the only “real” Americans are the ones who look like them, white, male, rich, “Christian.”
I grew up in the belly of the beast, in one of the true old-money suburbs where my classmates had brand names for surnames and where having to work at all, no matter what kind of money you made, was seen as something of a misfortune. I grew up in that world where blacks and jews were not allowed to join the country club, and where my parents generation still whispers when mentioning that the boy who grew up down the street married a black woman. The group who were, in the famous words of Molly Ivins, “born on third base and think they hit a triple.” They are powerful and unashamedly elitist and unshakeable in their beliefs. That’s why I left.
Instead of staying in the bubble and trying to either make that kind of money or marry that kind of money I’ve spent the past 25 years trying to figure out how to live in a joyful way outside of that system — the system where everything is judged by what kind of house you have and where you vacation and what clothes you wear and which schools you send your kids to. And Obama seems like the first leader I’ve ever seen who is talking to those of us outside the bubble. Colin Powell on Sunday referred to Obama as a “transformational” figure — and I just worry that at the last minute too many people will find that frightening, will not pull the lever for transformation, but will fall back on the old mess they know, the old mess with which they feel comfortable. But maybe I’m wrong — I certainly hope so. It’s hard to tell way out here where despite our Democratic governor and senators it’s still a pretty conservative, Republican state (and where there is still a big proportion of the voting population who will not vote for a black man). What’s the vibe feel like for the rest of you? Am I just panicking?