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DANIEL VAUGHAN: Splashing cold water on the ‘End is Nigh’ midterm predictions
If you’re like me, you’re relieved to be reaching the end of yet another election cycle. After Tuesday, the airwaves will finally be free of political ads — for now. No doubt, the news media will immediately plunge the nation into a two-year cycle of the presidential race. But for now, we’ll get a brief reprieve after midterms.
As always, we’ve been told that this is the most critical election of our lifetimes. Every two years, we hear that the very balance of the universe hangs on the decisions of American voters. Hillary Clinton even went so far to write an op-ed for The Atlantic saying that the midterms represented voters’ last chance to save American democracy.
Hyperbole has been a regular part of American politics since the Founders’ generation — in fact, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson practically invented modern campaign attack ads in 1800. You could even go far as to say that the apocalyptic tone of American politics is expected in a country with deep Protestant roots, where each generation believes that it is the one that will witness the return of Jesus Christ.
But while we enjoy our hyperbolic and sarcastic political jabs at each other, reality tells us that we’re in far better shape than the media makes us out to be. Despite the excessive number of desperate ads, chyrons, and BREAKING NEWS ALERT NOW banners going up every five minutes on cable TV, American democracy hasn’t ended in any of the prior elections — and it doesn’t seem poised to do so any time soon. As Kevin D. Williamson at National Review noted:
The fact that America just keeps on trucking irrespective of the qualities or character of the man in the Oval Office ought to make us think rather less of the presidency and rather more of ourselves — and think better of our neighbors, our businesses, our public institutions, our civil society, and much else — including the citizens who do not share our political views.
This strikes me as exactly right.
I had the opportunity to vote early last week at the local county election commission headquarters. Tennessee makes early voting a remarkably simple process, and no one had to wait in line long.
With me in line were people of every color and political affiliation (at least according to the bumper stickers in the parking lot). The man ushering everyone inside was dressed up in a full Uncle Sam star-spangled suit for Halloween, and his top hat had the tri-star logo for the state of Tennessee.
Everyone was happily going through the line, chatting about the weather and complimenting the children in costumes waiting in line with their parents. It was a thoroughly small-town American experience, one that reminded me that even though everyone is voting differently in the voting booth, we’re still in this together — and far less divided than our newsmakers and social media posts would have us believe.
The overflow parking lot for my local election commission is also a church parking lot, which made me think of a passage by Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French historian and political scientist who traveled across America in the early 1800s, recording his adventures in his famous books, Democracy in America.
At one point, de Tocqueville described his attempt to figure out why America is a great country. He traveled across the nation, looking at the Constitution and our political institutions, but couldn’t find the answer to his question.
Finally, he walked into an American church and heard the sermons going forth into America and saw the answer. He said: “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
About a hundred years later, a similar sentiment was pronounced by the great British novelist J.R.R. Tolkien in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. The wise wizard Gandalf remarks that while some believe only great power, in the hands of powerful people, can hold evil at bay, “that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”
And so it is in America. Our democracy isn’t in peril every two years because, fundamentally, America still has good in her.
Our local communities and neighbors still have good in them, and when we vote and build up our local communities, that checks all the great evils our politicians and the media have assured us is around the corner.
Those claiming that American democracy is in trouble in 2018 will do so again in 2020, and again and again. Doom and gloom earn clicks and eyeballs, but it’s not reality. The great powers of the media and national politicians aren’t the ones keeping evil at bay in America — that task belongs to the American people.
And despite all the horrible prognostications, the American people have survived far worse than the present moment — and I suspect we’ll do so again, whatever the results of the 2018 midterms.
De Tocqueville observed that “there are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle” — and I don’t have much faith in political parties, either. But I do have faith in the American people to continue to hold the light of freedom and democracy for future generations.
Our foundation is strong, our Constitution is excellent, our institutions are holding, and we’ll continue to exist as a light to the rest of the world.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have major problems to solve. But it does mean the apocalypse is not at our doorstep these midterms.
And relief from political ads is happily close.
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