It’s two days before the election in the US and I sit here in Lugo on pins and needles. Sleeping is difficult as I awaken in the middle of the night wondering if I’ve missed anything really awful back in the US since I went to sleep. Such is the last 4 years – but it’s more intense now. This election is for all the marbles. Democracy hangs in the balance. A shot at a fair and just society for every citizen – or the hope of one in the future.
Martin Luther King Jr. said ‘The arc of a moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ I pray that ‘long’ this time means four years. It’s sure felt like an eternity. And that the ‘bending’ will have already begun. We are not a perfect country, we never were. Far from it. We’ve had prolonged social injustice, economic inequality, rampant misogyny, and so many more problems since day one. People of color, LGBTQ+, women, and immigrants have born the burden of our blind eyes and indifference. Our country was founded by slave owners and privileged white men who would protect their own rights and never the rights of others they deemed unworthy, lesser and undeserving. It’s what got us the Electoral College. Designed to protect against an electorate the land owners mightn’t control. But with this election we have the opportunity to turn the page and make substantive change. To finally tackle these problems once and for all.
Could we have done all this before? Yes. But, while 2020 has been a hard year, it’s allowed for us to see things more clearly. We can’t look away any more and pretend we do not see. And best of all, it feels like we’re all in it together, at last. One person is not greater than the next. We must truly fight for justice and equality (in all it’s forms) if we hope to survive together to tackle things looming – like the climate crisis.
I know I will not sleep well for the next few days. It’s a given. Jeff and I have already decided we will stay up Tuesday night and track the returns on the phone, together. In 2016 I was on a business trip on election day. In Tampa, Florida. The swingy-ist of swing states. When the returns came in I was on the phone with Jeff. We were stunned. I cried and could not sleep. My meetings the next day were difficult. I was like a zombie. Others in the room had to excuse themselves to cry in the bathroom and call loved ones. There was only one woman who was smiling like a Cheshire cat, yet she was shocked by our reactions. She had gotten what she wanted and she was thrilled. I often think of her now and wonder how she feels after four years of this.
Jeff got up the next day, pulling out of the garage. He was tired when he saw a hand knock on his window, scaring him to death. It was the guy across the street whose house had so many yard signs for ‘Trump/Pence’ you could barely see the paint. It was like a dystopian Disneyland. He had a big flag on the back of the motorcycle he rode to work each day. It was his mother’s house and he lived in her casita. A 50 year old man who never left home. When we moved in he came across the street to introduce himself ‘I guess with Washington license plates I know you’re liberals.’ He’d told us with a smirk – as though it was perfectly appropriate to say to a new neighbor, and not the rudest possible Welcome to the Neighborhood. On that morning in November 2016 he was out early gesturing to Jeff to roll down the window.
‘Don’t worry.’ he told Jeff. ‘Now that Trump is elected and we can throw that Obama out, everything is going to be OK. He’s gonna Make America Great Again.’
Jeff called me on his way to work as I struggled through my meeting in Florida.
‘Holy Shit! That guy has guns. A lot of guns.’ he said, after telling me the story. ‘We need to move.’
Now, here we sit four years later. It’s not all been OK. It’s been chaos inside the country and across the globe. I went to the Cathedral here in Lugo and I prayed for my country. I’ll do so again, today. It’s not lost on me that I am, yet again, not with Jeff on election day. I’m in another hotel room far away from him and will listen to the returns online like I did last time. I hope it’s not a bad omen.
It’s interesting that in the US you almost never hear about other country’s elections. We’re a pretty ethnocentric lot – it’s all about us. Brexit might have been the exception. But here in Spain, our election is all over the media. El Pais had a spread in the Sunday paper explaining how presidents are elected in America, questioning how crazy it is that it’s not one voice/one vote. People here don’t understand why we’re not a true representative democracy, like Spain is.
But what happens in this election doesn’t just impact the US. Sure, all the things I talked about before matter to the majority of people there. But what most Americans don’t take into account, or really consider as they cast their vote, is that the US has led on foreign policy since the end of WWII. We have been the bulwark against authoritarianism across the globe for more than seventy five years. Have we done some bad things? Yes. Many of which I’m ashamed. But the EU is watching on tender hooks, hoping and praying that MLK was right. That America’s moral arc is ready to bend again, after four years of abandoning our real friends and allies in NATO, and kicking them away from the dock to fend for themselves. While Europeans have no vote, they have as much at stake as any American ticking the boxes on election day. The future of Democracy around the world is on the ballot this time and I pray my fellow American voters understand that a narcissistic game show host isn’t the perfect steward who will keep it safe for the next generation. Right now, as Europeans understand, it hangs by an ever fraying thread that authoritarians around the globe are salivating over with a pair of hedge trimmers. I pray on Tuesday my fellow Americans will step us away from the precipice, tie a knot, and hang on.