Thoughts, October 26, 2016

I'll start this blog with the beginning.

People have asked me a number of times why I'm volunteering to elect Hillary Clinton for president. Why did I choose to leave a stable job, travel across an international border, and come to a small, scrappy office in Philadelphia to make phone calls and knock on doors and get out the vote?

It definitely wasn't to stem the tide of Americans who might pour into Canada if Trump is elected. Canada doesn't need that; the joke writers point out we've been building our own wall for over a year. Although despite what the satirical YouTube videos show, it's actually a wall of hugs, not bricks, and Americans would probably force their way through it regardless, so.

I don't have a personal story about Hillary. I wasn't all too familiar with her life's work before she became Secretary of State under President Obama. In fact, I followed the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke's work under her far most closely than I followed her herself. 

However, now that I've been inhaling this election for well over a year and have become familiar with Hillary's many accomplishments, I've come to respect her work. Many of her positions would affect me regardless of where I live. While I had been mostly indifferent to the various criticisms levelled against her until this year, I now understand, as a policymaker in my own right, how complex government is and how simple-minded the criticisms of her tend to be. I have no doubt that, despite her flaws, she would make a fine president.

And indeed, she would make a fine president coming on the heels of another fine president, President Obama. News flash: Obama isn't perfect, either. Some of the charges made against him over his eight years have been fair, on both foreign and domestic issues. But overall, most criticisms have been mixed at best. He accomplished much of his significant goals, heralded in groundbreaking new policies, fought to improve the lives of the disadvantaged, and maintained his integrity, his thoughtfulness, his love of family, and his sense of humor throughout the worst economic and housing crisis since the Great Depression, unprecedented war and terrorism, and unprecedented domestic political attacks and obstruction.

Now that we see what the 2016 election cycle has wrought, we all know this is no easy feat. Many of us, myself included, will miss Obama deeply: his decency and dignity, his tendency to resist talking in sound bites, his comedic timing and appreciation of a good joke, his intellectual curiosity and rigor, and perhaps most of all, his consistent courage in being true to himself. We will miss Michelle, as much or more, for possessing these same qualities. 

It is these qualities, in part, that have brought me here to fight in this election. By now everyone knows the stakes. Everyone knows these qualities are on the ballot. Everyone knows Obama's legacy is on the ballot. Everyone knows democracy is on the ballot. Because no one may have seen Donald Trump coming a year and a half ago... but boy, did he ever. 

But what people are going to start talking about after Nov. 8 also really matters. Whatever the result on Election Day -- whatever the level of indictment of Trump -- he has thrown open the Pandora's Box and unleashed the full-throated power of the Tea Partiers that Sarah Palin started after President Obama won in 2008. This cannot be undone. The Republican Party needs an overhaul to be sure, but this has never been a purely Republican problem. It's a multi-faceted American problem. Disenfranchised voters; people who have been left behind on the left and the right; people who have been disillusioned with their institutions of government and a real - and perceived - lack of courageous leadership; minorities and women who have seen new levels of hatred suddenly become not only overt but legitimate; the astounding lack of communication between different communities of all ages, including urban and rural, north and south, religious and atheist, rich and poor -- and all of this unleashed in a world defined by social media and a 24/7 news cycle that all too often exacerbates tensions, promotes echo chambers, and encourages low standards or editorials masquerading as fact -- all of this has led, at once, to a perfect storm. 

Clearly there's a lot to worry about. But since you asked, what does this have to do with me?

Because America means the world to me. It is the one country in the world that was founded upon infinite possibilities -- and where infinite possibilities do remain, even if they are tougher to achieve these days. The question, 'Why not?' is still asked regularly, and still goes far. A sense of optimism, of vitality, of a willingness to take risks, still exists in large measure. And it doesn't exist anywhere else in the world - certainly not as a matter of a country's DNA. All of this matters -- to me, and to so many others around the world. 

So I'm hopeful that this election will begin a process of rebuilding, of unifying America. It is true that Hillary is widely disliked. And it is likely that the Republicans will be decimated on Nov. 8, and then proceed not only pretend that 2016 never happened, but insist they must block everything Hillary and the Democrats do to ensure she only lasts for one term -- and that that approach will be perfectly fine for many people, Republicans and otherwise. 

But I'm hopeful that that won't be the trend. I'm hopeful that Hillary will open up a touch more, or at least that her work in one-on-one encounters with citizens and politicians, will open new doors. I'm hopeful that the Clinton Foundation's questionable record on conflicts of interest improves quickly and decisively. I'm hopeful that the Republican leadership - which has been so utterly lacking this cycle - will finally emerge, and that they will meet her halfway. I'm hopeful that after being humiliated, the RNC (albeit minus Ted Cruz) will finally realize they must do their job. I'm hopeful that Democrats will approach the RNC with empathy rather than disgust, and that they will work together to talk and listen to Americans who desperately need them all to step up. I'm hopeful that civic engagement, politics, public service and government are not held in disdain. And I'm hopeful that this doesn't just last for one month, or one year, or one term, but that it becomes the new normal. Kind of like the old normal. 

Am I crazy? I don't think so. So much has fallen apart this past year and a half that I must be hopeful America will build itself up again. 

I'm hopeful in the way Obama described it back in 2004:

"I'm not talking about blind optimism here. No, I'm talking about something more substantial... the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs, the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores... the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too." 

So yes, I'm fighting in this election. Because America is a part of me, too. And because there's really no other place to be right now. There's just too many unacceptable occurrences going on to give into cynicism, whining, hand-wringing -- or to merely observing it all. That will get me -- and us -- nowhere. Instead, on Nov. 8, after the results are announced, I can say I helped usher in a new beginning. 


The Day After