November 6. Next Tuesday. It’s not that far away.
Vote! Get others out to vote! We need to vote! It’s a rare prescription, one on which the majority of Americans agree. The bad news is that all the votes cast from Atlantic to Pacific and from Alaska to Hawaii won’t be enough to make our country better without a whole lot of ongoing effort, over a very long time, in other parts of our lives.
There is a two-pronged concept in philosophy, that of the necessary and the sufficient. If your car has a gasoline-powered or diesel-fueled engine, it won’t start and run without the proper fuel. Empty tank means no-car-go. You gotta have fuel. Fuel is necessary.
Fuel all by itself, however, is not sufficient.
Suppose the fuel line is blocked or the battery dead or the ignition switch has gone bad. Then your car may have plenty of fuel and still not start. And that, unfortunately, is the situation we’re in in these presently Disunited States. Every eligible voter in the country could turn out and vote, and no matter which party came out on top, we would still be not just a country divided but a country at each other’s throats. We’ve been moving away from each other for a long time, our national moral battery is just about dead, and our public communication — political speech, social media posts — has gone from bad to worse.
“Milton, thou shouldest be living at this hour! England hath need of thee!”
Well, we aren’t England, and it isn’t Milton we need, and it isn’t enough for good men and women merely to be alive. We need good people of integrity, maturity, and wisdom — more of them, that is; there are a few here and there already — in leadership positions in government. We need officials and public servants with the courage of their convictions and the temperamental ability to abstain from name-calling and shouting. We need leaders willing and able to focus on real issues, on what needs to be done, women and men who can put personal issues aside and move forward, rather than bogging down in endless ego battles.
And the change really needs — this is really the Gordian knot of the present moment — to be top-down, because that’s what leadership is. Leadership is not whining and blaming and taking cheap shots and encouraging the intensification of hatred and intolerance. Leadership isn’t tapping into irrational fears that keep people from seeing or thinking straight. It’s calling on a nation’s strengths, on people’s better selves. And if the man at the very top cannot lead, those whose job it is to advise him — that would Congress first and foremost — need to grow spines (to put it in polite terms) and start standing up to him and for our country’s future. But clearly, most of them are not going to do it if we let them get away with shirking their duty and prancing around like movie stars, so while it has to come from the top eventually, it may have to begin at the bottom.
So we cannot stop with casting a ballot. At the personal and local level, we need to listen to and talk to one another, both one-on-one and in groups. On social media and in other public arenas, we need to remain civil. Remain? Maybe more like return to or initiate and practice civility. But we must also continue to urge our elected officials to keep civil tongues in their mouths, focus on practical matters of government, listen to all their constituents, and not sell their souls for short-term financial gain or temporary political career advancement. (People will remember, Mr. and Ms. Candidate. Keep that well in mind.) We cannot rest secure by electing people and then turning them loose on trust to look out for us. We have to watch them like hawks, every minute, and not let them forget for a minute that we’re watching.
There are a lot of us, though, so we can take turns. Once we’ve established the habit. Once our fevered brains have a chance to recall that we’re all in this together, sink or swim. That’s the good news. It can be done. We can pull together. We can treat one another decently, with respect. And we have everything to gain.
The question is, will we get it together in time? Vote on Tuesday! But don't expect voting to produce a miracle. It's just not that fast or easy.