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The Election (Re)Cycle

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A few weeks ago, I was in one of my school’s teacher’s lounges.

(Multiple buildings, so… multiple lounges…)

I was chatting with two colleagues, both social studies teachers. As you might expect, current events were big topics. The presidential election season was one.

“I dread this, every four years, having to be reminded that I’m fighting for my existence,” I said exasperatedly to one of the men.

That caught him by surprise. Earnestly, he sought to be empathetic.

I knew his heart was in the right place. But I had neither the time nor the wherewithal to spend emotional energy on the 2024 presidential election.

There were students to see, situations to address, work to be done.

I left.

Sitting here, reflecting at home, I realize how much trouble our nation might be in if our collective response is what mine was.

  • Deflect.
  • Compartmentalize.
  • Move on.

As a gay man, I’m used to emotionally fraught conversations regarding my and other people’s perceptions of my rights and role in society.

At the same time, I’m far from alone:

  • People of color,
  • Women and immigrants,
  • Other members of the LGBTQ+ community,
  • People who live in poverty or without housing,
  • People with disabilities,
  • People of non-Christian faith traditions or no faith tradition,
  • People of any political party – or no political party –

    – who believe in the United States as a democracy and republic:

    Every four years:

    We’re all fighting for our existence.

    The past two electoral cycles were especially exhausting. But I hope to learn from my mistakes.

    In 2016, I wasn’t engaged enough.

    I voted, sure, but I didn’t get involved in political dialogue. Decades of training as a journalist left me predisposed to silence amid partisan conversations.

    In 2020, I overcompensated.

    I dove right in on social media and engaged in political debates. I lost a few friendships and wounded relationships with relatives.

    This cycle, I’m trying to find the right place for me.

    I think I’ve settled on staying in my lane – but being clear about what that lane is.

    I’m not going to tell others that their candidate is racist or homophobic or xenophobic. Instead, I feel like the best thing I can do is explain what I value in a candidate and – equally important – ask and listen to others as they say what they value.

    Maybe in that dialogue each of us can gain clarity, on our own values as well as those of others, and come to a place of mutual respect.

    There’s a place for protest and full-throated support for who we support and what we hold dear. For me, that place is both in the streets – at downtown marches – and in the letters I write or visits I make to representatives. I’m finding social media isn’t that place. My friends and family who have similar views need no persuasion. Those who do not aren’t persuaded and, sometimes, withdraw all contact.

    Where’s the win – or hope – in that?

    So, in 2024, I pledge allegiance:

    To honesty, integrity, equality, and dignity. The candidate who best exemplifies these traits gets my vote. I’ll work to help others access their rights to do the same.

    And, then, I’ll pray to make the most of each day until the next presidential cycle rolls along.

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    Chuck Small

    Journalist-turned-high school counselor. Happily ensconced in Raleigh, N.C., with hubby of 31 years (9 legal).

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    Phylum of Alexandria
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    April 22, 2024 7:43 am

    Thanks for writing this Chuck.

    I’ve found that the coping mechanism of “deflect, compartmentalize, move on” has become pretty common in recent years, and not just for politics. The pandemic has changed us all, and we’re still reeling from it.

    As for political discussions, my wife and I were recently talking with friends we hadn’t seen in a year or so. After some merrier content, talk of the future came up, and we brought up our worries about the election, because the stakes were so great. These are all people who hate Trump, yet we found that they were acting confused that we would be so concerned. As if we were hyperventilating about some made up apocalyptic nonsense. I interpreted their disconnect from our worries as a groaning “dude, it’s just politics” kind of reaction.

    Given that these people had already hated Trump before January 6 2020, I found this reaction puzzling. But it’s likely rooted in something more complicated, a variation of “deflect, compartmentalize, move on,” but one that’s trying to return to some blissful past (the 90s?) when politics was nothing but trivial bickering so they’re justified in not caring about it.

    While I understand this general type of coping given what we’ve all been going through, its widespread prevalence does have me worried with respect to this upcoming election. Of course, part of the reason why I’m worried is simply because the stakes are so great. Despite that fear, I do think that most people will likely show up when they have to.

    I also agree that yelling on social media works against us rather than for us, and condemnations of Trump as racist or fascist won’t help persuade others.

    For my part, now that I’m back from vacation, I am going to volunteer for phone banking to tell voters in Philly about why the Democratic candidates are the better pick. These efforts almost always focus on practical, everyday issues. I happen to be fully convinced that the MAGA movement is an incipient fascist movement, but my own beliefs are not what’s important: what matters is getting people to take the election seriously in a way that speaks to them.

    One way to get people thinking about the authoritarian threat that Trump poses is to describe his stated plans plainly, without using the words “authoritarian,” “anti-democratic,” etc.

    The non-profit group If You Can Keep It has issued a report describing six authoritarian lines of effort in a second Trump term in very practical terms.

    https://www.ifyoucankeepit.org/p/how-it-could-happen-here

    Calmly illustrating how Trump and his campaign have promised to carry out these extremely radical and troubling actions, and getting people to think about how that could affect their day-to-day lives, or those of their friends or family–maybe that’s a more realistic way to outline the threat that he poses to the nation.

    But for any of these efforts, we do have to respect that people deal with stress and trauma in their own ways, and they might not want to deal with this ugly reality just yet. As long as they eventually come around and join us at the table, let them get what they need.

    cappiethedog
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    April 22, 2024 2:56 pm

    Remember when I wrote about watching a movie about how 9/11 was a plan that originated on Mars? I tried. I explained to the random folks on my daily’s website how this is improbable. I learned that you can’t change people’s minds.

    Part of the problem, I think, is that late night talk show hosts and sketch comedy-oriented network, cable, and web series pour gasoline on fire by satirizing the former president, even now. That’s a problem. The people I tried to reach think I was secretly laughing at them.

    I never found any of this funny. How do you satirize the absurd?

    LinkCrawford
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    LinkCrawford
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    April 22, 2024 7:59 am

    Oooooh! Politics! I am lazy when it comes to politics. I vote in nearly every election, but I am less informed, less engaged than I should be. But I am gradually changing. I grew up a Republican in a very conservative (but I wouldn’t say radical) community. Over the last 10-15 years I have been gradually moving left in my political standing, and am now much more in the center. Nobody has helped push me left more than Trump, for whom I have never voted. Young Link would never imagine such a thing. But times change and people change.

    But I still bristle at the statement, “This is the most important election of our lives”. I feel like it minimizes past important elections, comes across as overly hyperbolic, and ignores the fact that we will always have to continually fight to keep the ship going in the right direction. But, since the present election is the only one that we have anything to do with (the past is the past, and the future is yet to be), I guess by some definition, the current election is always the most important election of our lives.

    Here’s hoping that we all endure the slog through election season.

    rollerboogie
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    April 22, 2024 8:07 am

    I truly respect where you are coming from on this, Chuck and I applaud your willingness to learn and grow in how to best engage in a difficult, thorny situation. I personally have no mental health space to discuss politics with anyone, online or IRL. When it does come up against my wishes, I literally lose sleep over one conversation, and even ones that haven’t happened. I have found that few people really want to dialog about this, especially these days, so any interactions in this regard do not appear fruitful. When I do have a chance to say something, it never feels adequate and I spend hours mulling over what I should have said instead. Other than conversations with my wife, I’ve mainly been keeping my views to myself, although small “tip-of-the-iceberg” aspects do occasionally slip out. I do feel guilty for “hiding out” and I realize spending my days talking about music, movies and such in this current landscape is like spending lots of time micro-analyzing the set list of the musical groups on the Titanic, but it’s literally one of the main things that keeps me afloat. I’m not saying that’s good or bad. It just is.

    JJ Live At Leeds
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    April 22, 2024 8:49 am

    I’m watching the election cycle with interest and apprehension. So how it feels to be part of it I can only imagine the levels of anxiety it induces. Given the fractious state of the world at the moment it feels ever more important to have a level head in control. It may not be my fight but the outcome will impact globally so I can only watch from afar and hope that enough people follow Chuck’s lead.

    It’s also interesting for me to compare and contrast what is happening here. The vagaries of the British system mean there’s no set date but an election has to be called within 5 years of the last one. That means Rishi has til 17th December to name a date. If he hasn’t done so it will automatically be set 25 working days from that point meaning the latest our election can be held is 28 January 2025.

    Some predicted he would go early this Spring in order to wrongfoot Labour and before things get worse for him but it looks most likely it’ll be late this year as he hopes for a miraculous turnaround.

    That’s assuming he’s still in charge. There are local elections on 2nd May which are predicted to go very badly for the Conservatives. After the end of Boris and the brief reign of Liz Truss all bets are off as to how bad a showing in May will necessitate another roll of the dice and deposing yet another leader.

    We’ve got similarities in that the Conservatives are trying to play on the same culture war issues as the US right. While there are people for whom that resonates with it seems that for most it’s the economy and the health service that are the main drivers. After 14 years in power their reputation is in shreds in those areas. They’re well behind in the polls to the point many think the only variable about the outcome is how bad it will be for them.

    They can’t rely on their record in power as the last few years have been so chaotic and disastrous that the only thing left is to play on people’s fears and hope they can rile up enough anger and fear to win votes. Rather than send a message of hope and positivity for what is possible.

    Virgindog
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    April 22, 2024 10:50 am

    We used to think that you don’t talk about religion and politics in polite company. This might be the one way I’m old-fashioned. I try to treat whoever I’m talking with as polite company.

    Until they prove me wrong. Then I leave.

    Vote how you want to vote, but vote. It matters in every single election, even those random city council ones in, say, February. In my town, it’s the difference between getting sidewalks or not. Seems like a small thing but we’re second in the nation behind Memphis for pedestrian deaths, and our city leaders have only started doing something about it in the past six months. It took a long time to elect people to take the issue seriously. So vote. Every single time. Vote.

    lovethisconcept
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    April 22, 2024 2:06 pm
    Reply to  Virgindog

    I was taught that same policy of not talking religion or politics. It was a good policy in some ways, but it meant that we never really learned to discuss these subjects in the respectful and civil way that we approached disagreements about music, literature, or a myriad of other subjects.

    I’m not sure that the policy served us well, although I still observe it in the main, partly because I just can’t get past the discomfort level involved.

    Virgindog
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    April 22, 2024 2:17 pm

    That’s an idea I hadn’t thought about before. Maybe we just need practice.

    Zeusaphone
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    April 23, 2024 10:56 am
    Reply to  Virgindog

    It matters far more in your local elections than the national ones. The vast majority of the governing that matters occurs at your city hall.

    blu_cheez
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    April 22, 2024 4:12 pm

    In both 2020 and 2024 we’re up against two absolutely awful choices – ancient-ass white men who don’t always seem as compos mentis as I would like the leader of the Free World to be.

    It’ll be another “hold my nose and vote against the one I hate” situation again, and that makes me sad. We really have better people in both parties to help keep us moving forward.

    stobgopper
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    April 23, 2024 10:17 pm
    Reply to  blu_cheez

    Granted. Although, only one of them shows xenophobic tendencies, cozies up to white supremacists, flatters the Putins and Kim Jong Uns of the world, suggests injecting disinfectants into your system, or lies about the size of crowds that gather to hear him speak. Or cheats at golf.

    cappiethedog
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    April 22, 2024 8:58 pm

    “We’re all fighting for our existence.”

    This is spot-on.

    This is what I believe.

    The American plutocrats has us fighting among ourselves when we should be fighting them.

    Everything in any given news cycle, I think, is just one more piece in a collective “wag the dog”.

    What does the 1% want?

    All of our money.

    The average American, in my opinion, doesn’t know who the real enemies are.

    Edith G
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    April 23, 2024 11:28 am

    Thanks for writing this Chuck, this year we’ll have an election as well, but the division and confrontation are part of the environment.

    Even when my country will have the opportunity to elect its first female president, things don’t seem exciting, I can say I’m feeling exhausted by now and not enthusiastic about going to vote.

    I lost friends as well, because radicalism is hard to bear when you see people who you used to get along, transforming into something you don’t like. In my case, there were a couple of women who let their government jobs went to their heads (unlike the U.S., bureaucrats are better paid than people in private sector).

    But I admire your motivation and willingness to work for your country.

    stobgopper
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    April 23, 2024 7:27 pm

    I would really rather not involve myself in this type of discourse, but the widening schism in our society demands it. This is how I see the current landscape: one party, while behaving in a somewhat sane manner, has lost the mojo it had during the late 2000s and early 2010s and seems to be rudderless moving into the future. However, their adversaries are completely unhinged from reality, flailing and making misstep after misstep, all of their many disasters the result of an endless series of perhaps fatal self-inflicted wounds. This is the most important dilemma we’ve faced in decades, and where you stand on it will define you forever going forward: Marvel or DC?

    I confess I posted the above to Threads a few months ago, to deafening silence. I do only have three followers, all from my immediate family.

    Lastly, ever since Reagan (or Nixon, if you want to go back to the Bronze Age of conservative malfeasance), the right’s been increasingly environmentally blinkered, culturally retrograde, and politically authoritarian. You could look it up.

    Zeusaphone
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    April 23, 2024 9:43 pm
    Reply to  stobgopper

    Reagan was nothing like today’s GOP. Someone with his positions would be booed off the CPAC stage.

    stobgopper
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    April 23, 2024 10:44 pm
    Reply to  Zeusaphone

    Agreed. But he also ‘dog-whistled’ states’ rights to get the support of the South, broke the air traffic controllers union, paid lip service to the Christian right, and allowed the party to make anti-abortion policies a major part of the Republican Party platform. All issues that are in full flower in today’s GOP.

    cappiethedog
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    April 24, 2024 7:47 pm
    Reply to  Zeusaphone

    I watched CPAC for one specific reason; their keynote speaker.

    It’s kind of nuts.

    The people from his team quit after he gave a controversial speech at a CPAC event in Europe.

    And we invited him.

    Low4
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    April 24, 2024 4:28 pm

    Well, I don’t have friends, so WTH.

    Trump is a jackass and a disaster who will likely destroy democracy in this country. What would Abe Lincoln think?

    Damnit, just hold your nose and vote Biden.

    Bye now.

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