The wait is almost over, and our future is in the hands of fate. The candidates have spoken until they’re hoarse, their supporters have sweated and stumped and struggled to do all that’s possible to influence the outcome. The media have used up every last word of description, deception and dogged accuracy. We are at the brink. I am hopeful but not confident that the people will rise to the task of making a thoughtful and reasonable choice, and not fall prey to the lies and misinformation, I am hopeful but not confident that the dirty tricks will not work, and that the voting machines will. I am hopeful that my candidate will prevail and have the opportunity to do the rest of the very good and some less good that he has on his list. The winds seem to be in his favor.
But still I puzzle over our increasingly schizoid takes on reality — we on the left and the right and in the lonely and uncomfortable middle. For me, the break with what seemed others’ shared reality began in my college years. I remarked to someone on Facebook that I had had a brief romance with the ideas of Ayn Rand, the grand justification of total selfishness because We Really Are Better. Rich food for a 20-year-old who still knew everything. And then John Kennedy was murdered right in front of us. And I woke up to my shared humanity. I truly believe that the turmoil of the 60s began right there, not with the anti-war movement or all the other movements that started up at about the same time. It was that shift in vision that gave a good many of us just coming into our majority new eyes that produced a curiously jaded vision of the world. I remember Molly Ivins’ account of how such a radical Democrat as she had grown up in, and from, such a staunch southern conservative family. “I first learned that they were lying about race,” she said. “And then I learned they were lying about everything.”
So it was with me. Once I left home and college and went to make my fortune in California, I parted with my family’s world view because I had come into a different world. I learned that Catholics Could be trusted to think independently, that African-Americans Were fully human, that backwoods Ozarks hillbillies like me really Didn’t have a leg up on the rest of the world. That, in fact, we were remarkably uneducated and ill-informed.
Having spent now more than 35 years back in the fold, as it were, I find that nothing has changed all that much here. Some of that is pleasant, like the relaxed pace of life, the thoughtful approach to living life as you believe it should be lived, the prudence, the frugal nature of most of these people.
But what about the bumpkins? What about the folks so out of touch with any larger reality that they believe in black helicopters and United Nations plots to herd country residents into concentration camps (called, in a sinister voice, “apartments”) so the land can be given back to the critters. Really. And they fall for every scare that’s offered, and stumble into the local newspaper office begging for help because “They’re coming to take my land.” They have no idea that the boogeyman is actually the fear mongering misinformation toadies on Fox News and others, willing to tell any far-fetched lie so long as it helps describe the dangerous world out there, so vicious that you’d best keep your head down and we’ll tell you what you need to know. I spent the better part of 20 years, off and on, writing for The Quill and trying to be as clear and informed as I possibly could.I spent several more teaching beginning English, often as a second language, to Ozarks natives who mostly didn’t know that the language they spoke wasn’t quite English. They just thought the way they spoke, the “We seen him when he done it” stuff was because they were dumb. Well, they were, but not because of the language. The correct term is “cultural isolation.” And it’s isolation of a particular sort, because of past run-ins with the government, from moonshiners to marijuana growers to land grabbers in the national park system. They don’t trust government. And so any tale made up that pegs the government as the villain is red meat.
So they fall for the property rights snake oil pitches, custom manufactured by the lead mining industry. And the Tea Party hocus pocus, funded by the Koch Brothers. And the whole right wing religious blab, a true devil’s mix of charlatan end times hucksters and misogynist “promise keepers” who seem to believe a wife works better with a foot on her neck. It’s what god wants, they say. Those folks have a god in their hearts that I wouldn’t have in my house.
So here we are, at the brink, knowing that all those folks who are confused by made-up stories and fearful of the future are going to vote, and there may be more of them than there are of us. What can we do. Well, we can vote. And we can be hopeful. And we can educate those around us, though it’s a little late for that. And if there is a god at work in this race to win the future or to step off the path into the darkness, let us begin the work immediately to learn this lesson offered — that unlike the 1960s when we all just threw up our hands and went off into the country to grow a garden, we Are the garden as well as the gardeners, and we have many seeds to plant. It is not a time to falter, whatever the outcome. It is a time to invest the work of our hands and minds to bring growth, and light, and food for thought. It is time to grow intelligence. And understanding. And clarity. And consciousness, to feed a desperately hungry nation. Vote. And then get back to work.