I find myself drawn like a gawker to a highway crash to nearly every poll and every article or Op-Ed piece about this election even though I’ve already voted. Who’s up, who’s down, what the possible electoral college number may be for each candidate depending on which swing state goes which way all consume me.
It does feel ominous, doesn’t it? It seems as if we are all watching two vehicles driving maddeningly head-on toward each other only to realize with a sickening awareness that there are innocent bystanders who will be decimated in the crash.
When I was a puppy community organizer working in the tough streets of South Providence I would get physically ill about 30 minutes before any big meeting. One of the tasks I added to my meeting check list was to make sure I found a place where I could be out of sight and quietly throw up before the meeting began. I eventually realized that this queasy feeling was panic. I knew that at 30 minutes before an event there was nothing meaningful I could do to affect the outcome. A sense of dread would overcome me because I recognized that everything I had been working for - sometimes for many months - was now out of my hands.
That’s where I am now with this election. I have an overwhelming sense of dread and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. November 8th can’t come quickly enough and at the same time, it scares me that it is nearly upon us. What is frightening about the election is that no matter which side wins, the grinding partisanship will likely not abate.
I fully realize that my anxiety may be viewed as a lack of faith; that I don’t trust how God’s goodness will win out eventually. But that isn’t true. I do believe that goodness will triumph in the “long arc of history” but I also acknowledge that in the short run, things can go alarmingly awry. The political process has been ugly and can easily remain vile and ugly for some time. And that is what concerns me. We have been focused on a political process and not so much on our own and our neighbor’s physical and spiritual wellbeing.
I have begun to read more of the writings from the English mystic Julian of Norwich. In her treatise, “Revelations of Devine Love” she writes:
“Failure of love on our part is the only cause of all suffering.”
Failure of love is a failure of civility. Failure of love is a failure of honesty and integrity. Failure of love is a failure of care for those who are not like us. Failure of love is a failure of trust. And quite possibly, failure of love may bring the failure of our country.
The car wreck we’ve been watching unfold will occur on November 8th. There will be victims and there will be survivors. Much of that is out of our hands, but we don’t have to settle for being crash site gawkers. We have power, not only in how we treat others but also how we demand our elected officials act when they represent us. It would be naive to expect that we and our politicians will magically begin to “love” one another after this election. But we can certainly resolve that our interactions with others are based on honesty, integrity, trust, civility and search for the common good and we can demand the same from our elected officials. That’s not love, but perhaps it’s a good start and it is far better than just watching the aftermath of this soul wrecking election.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.