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  • Writer's pictureMonica Harris

Election 2020 Is Just Around The Corner. Got Xanax?

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

Every four years, millions of people head to the polls, voting for “change” they never get. Is this democracy or insanity?

"Men, it has been well said, think in herds. It will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.

― Charles MacKay,

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

In full disclosure, I should warn you that we’re about to venture into the realm of political heresy. So gird your loins.

Ready? Now take a deep breath, set aside your party loyalty (just for a moment), and be completely honest: Even if your preferred candidate wins in 2020, do you really expect them to deliver the kind of changes that will improve your life on fundamental levels? Do you really think they'll push to implement the kind of fundamental reforms that will level the playing field and put our country "back on track" after heading in the wrong direction for so long?

Or, is it more likely that twenty-two months of finger-pointing, emotionally-manipulative ads, grandstanding debate performances, condescending speeches, bi-weekly scandals, and recycled (and unfulfilled) promises from the last election cycle will only confirm what’s been staring us all in the face for so long, but we stubbornly refuse to acknowledge:

Elections in the U.S. have become the incarnation of collective insanity. And we’re gearing up to dive into the insanity again.

Just to be clear, I'm not talking about Merriam-Webster-defined “insanity”; I'm talking about the kind of insanity described in "Narcotics Anonymous," the 12-step primer published in 1980 to assist a fellowship of men and women struggling with a disease that is "progressive, incurable and fatal":

Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.

After living through nine of these twenty-two month long escapades in my adult life, that's exactly what elections feel like to me now: loud, pointless, energy-draining descents into insanity on a mass level.

That may smack of hyperbole, but just think about it: every four years, millions of otherwise sensible people, on all points of the political spectrum and from all walks of life, vote for people to do more or less the same thing their predecessors promised to do in every prior election (but didn't). Hoping that a different candidate will finally be able to accomplish what all others have failed to do. Expecting that THIS time, the results will be different.

But they never are.

Elections in the U.S. have become the incarnation of collective insanity. And we’re gearing up to dive into the insanity again.

One crisp morning last Fall, Rusty, the “irrigation whisperer” who puts our sprinkler system to bed before winter arrives, showed up at our house with his feisty wife/assistant, Maggie. It wasn’t long before Maggie and I were chatting about local gossip and current events. As always, the conversation turned to the latest annoying thing Trump had done.

As always, there was outrage.

“But let me ask you something,” I said. “What did your life look like before the guy took office?”

“Oh, it was a lot better!” Maggie declared emphatically.

“Really? You mean it was easier to make ends meet?”

She laughed. “Well, that’s been tough for a while.”

“Did your kids have better jobs?”

She gave it some thought. “No, they were having a hard time then too,” she said.

“Was your healthcare cheaper?”

“Not really…”

“Did you notice businesses here doing better two years ago?” I asked. The shops in our tourist burg have been struggling to hang on in recent years, challenged by wildfires that have shortened the summer season and working class families grappling with less disposal income.

“Oh, God no,” she moaned.

“ was your life better?” I asked.

Maggie shrugged and chuckled.

“Well, I guess it really wasn’t. But he’s just so annoying! Maybe that just makes the problems feel worse.”

Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.

I've noticed a pattern over the years. Maybe you've noticed it, too?

After every election, we cross our fingers and hope the candidate we vote into office will accomplish what they told us they wanted to accomplish. But by mid-term, we're wrestling with the fact that they really aren't delivering. We see that the problems they inherited just keep getting bigger. We notice that vested interests (the ones our candidate gets gobs of money from, but winks and pretends to ignore) make the solutions more complicated.

And if we're paying close attention, we can feel the general quality of our lives deteriorating, day in and day out.

But we talk ourselves into accepting these failures. We remind ourselves that we didn't really expect our candidate to fix all of the problems that drove us to the polls. We tell ourselves that we’re okay if they only fix a few of them, even if they’re not the ones that bother us most. And we take cold comfort in knowing that the “other” candidate would have failed us more.

By the time the next election rolls around, we've learned our lesson. We’re fired up. So we head to the polls, vowing for real change this time. We’re ready to give someone else (supported by the same people who brought us our last candidate) a shot at fixing the problems that didn’t get fixed. And we find ourselves hoping, once again, that THIS time, THIS candidate will get it right.

Rinse and repeat, every four years. This is the insanity that now defines the American electoral process.

To be perfectly clear (again), I'm not saying that elections don't change anything; I’m saying that elections primarily deliver the kind of “niche” changes along the edges that enable the insanity. I’m saying that what elections never do is bring solutions to deeper problems that plague the System and affect us most, the problems that motivate the vast majority of voters to march to the polls in the first place.

A 2016 analysis by the Democracy Fund found that across every point on the political spectrum, from Democrat/liberal elites to older Republicans, the same cluster of issues topped voters' list of priorities: the economy, health care, jobs, and education. So it's really no surprise that during every election cycle, at rallies and debates designed to generate cheers and spike sagging poll numbers, candidates squeeze in some time to jawbone about these issues.

Then a strange thing happens.

During the rest of the campaign, and long after they take office, these crusaders (and their party benefactors) spend precious time dragging a weary populace into the sticky morass of "niche" and identity politics. They obsess over policies that appeal to those passionately clinging to the extremes, while managing to inflame half of the country that’s actually happy with the status quo they’re upending.

In the waning months of his second term, President Obama spent enormous political capital to ensure that people of all gender persuasions have the unfettered right to lavatory access (irrespective of their birth sex), yet in doing so alienated 45% of Americans who were incensed by the assault on cisgender restrooms.

At the other extreme, President Trump shuttered huge swaths of the government in his bare-knuckle bid to defend the border, leaving many without paychecks for weeks, even though 48% of Americans thinks a wall is neither reasonable nor necessary.

Where you stand on either of these issues is irrelevant. The point is that both presidents expended valuable time and energy on divisive policies that most people will probably never agree on; issues that were important to many Americans, but not all (or even most) Americans. More importantly, these aren’t isolated examples; inflammatory “niche” issues have now become the norm in our political discourse.

If we dare to pull focus and rise above the “niche” bickering, we can see the bigger picture. After every election, despite promises from both sides, life continues to unravel in the same, fundamental ways for 98% of us -- regardless of where we live, who we sleep with, the color of our skin, or whether we believe in God. Ask yourself:

If you’re a millennial, how likely is it that you’ll be able to buy a home in the neighborhood you grew up in?

If you’re a Baby Boomer, have your dreams of retirement gradually morphed from not working when you're 65 to maybe just working less when you're 70?

If you don’t have an employer who offers generous benefits, is health care really more affordable for you now than it was two elections ago? Have lobbyists and corporations stopped contributing obscene amounts of money to both parties so they can influence our presidents and lawmakers?

These aren’t problems that only affect some of us; these are problems that affect all of us. These are systemic failures that threaten the core of our government, our economy, and our ability to simply freaking live. They are failures that have persisted over decades, and they have intensified over multiple presidential administrations, both Republican and Democrat, no matter who leads the Senate or who controls the House.

This is the big picture no one talks about.

If we dare to pull focus, we can see that elections never put new people in charge who fix the problems that are common to all of us; elections put new people in charge who distract us with “niche” issues that divide us. If we dare to look beyond the partisan drama and hysteria, we can see a reality that’s become so easy to ignore because it’s ugly and painful.

Elections never deliver the structural changes that we desperately need in a System that’s failing everyone. The faces in office change, but our lives keep getting worse.

This reality isn't hidden from us; it's been staring us in the face for a long time. But once the shit show starts and the insanity overtakes us, it gets harder to see. Eventually, reality fades from view completely. So brace yourself. Because it won't be long before we'll find ourselves bombarded with campaign slogans that insult our intelligence and political ads that test our gag reflex. We'll find ourselves at war again -- with people we know, and with those we've never met.

The insanity will soon begin anew.

But whether we choose to throw our weight behind a Democrat or a Republican, I think it’s worth assessing what this exercise is really about and what we hope to achieve after the next brutal, twenty-two month long slog.

If voting is no longer about electing people who we can expect to make our lives better, but merely electing people who won’t make our situation as bad as the “other” candidate would, then we need to be honest about that.

If voting has become an act of desperation requiring us to keep looking to those with a proven track record of failure to handle the things that never get “fixed,” let’s be honest about that, too. If we're all on the same page about the problems that concern us most, yet we’re still willing to support candidates who keep us focused on issues that divide us, let’s own up to that. And if we're willing to settle for all of this, so be it. But I have a hunch this isn't what most of us really want. I suspect that more people are slowly waking up to the insanity; they just don't know what to do about it.

Forty-two percent of Americans now identify as politically independent, even if they lean left or right. Take a moment and wrap your head around that. The largest bloc of voters is now so fed up with the Establishment menu that they're finally ready to sample other options. A plurality of Americans is now "officially" willing to shed their party uniform. Put simply, more people are beginning to question why they vote and what they hope to achieve.

Many of us threaten to bite the bullet every election cycle, but maybe it’s finally time to consider — very seriously — giving someone a shot who hasn’t been rubber-stamped by the people who have consistently failed us. Maybe it's time to question our allegiance to parties who've managed to convince us that their candidates are worthy of our vote simply because they're more "viable." Maybe it's time we realize that the power to determine who is "viable," and what is possible, lies completely with us.

Maybe the moment has finally arrived for each of us, one by one, to walk away from the insanity and come to our senses.

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