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The Stoic Vote
If you vote, don't complain.
If you don’t vote, don’t complain.
I’m not complaining, I’m observing.
Somebody asked me today whom I thought would be the winner. I knew it was a political question, and I don’t have a simple answer. Yet I am always engaged with people who ask political questions. There are a number of implications to the fact that I’d rather not talk politics. There is a difference between ‘talking politics’ and talking about policy. The divergence between these two is one of the reasons I will not be voting.
Even so, I quite honestly don’t know where to engage in questions of policy beyond the level of what gets discussed in the frosh dorms. Part of this is because so much of our politics involves catering to simple-minded ‘issues’ that are not necessarily problems.
Take for example the following topics:
All of these are issues around which arguments have not changed in 50 years, nor have they been resolved. Why then do we panic at their mention and use them as shorthands to describe each other? Abortion always comes up whenever a Supreme Court nominee appears on the scene. Is there really any movement on the matter of ‘pro-choice’ vs ‘pro-life’? I find it quite difficult to believe that any current or prior jurist or on the Supreme Court has seen the matter in such a starkly one dimensional matter since the passage of Roe. And what organization has brought forth cogent arguments on the dissents?
My first thought goes to Diogenes, the famous intellectual and ethical giant who stands (or sits) as the archetype for the cranky mastermind and honest man who cannot be cheated. Various outcasts in our current times and recent history have all, likely subconsciously, attempted to stand in his worn out shoes. What would Diogenes say about Donald Trump? Probably that such a fool would inevitably take charge of the circus of fools comprising our reality gameshow democracy. It is a question he would be irritated answering a second and third time.
I struggle with my tentative relationship to public engagement, peasant that I am. I have clearly done something right (or nothing right) in having not earned the same audience as Caitlyn Jenner for the reasons she has x million followers. So I am not likely to be subject to death by poison as was Socrates - for he was convicted of leading the youth of the city astray. His god, as it were, was the polis. If he might be the proper archetype for a dedicated citizen whose mind and interactions are the meats and starches of civilized discourse required of wisdom, then we must all wonder what polis we serve.
Certainly I belong to cosmopolitan tribes, as do you for being and reading here. Alas we are but tribes, outside of a true responsible chain of command or recourse. I’m not saying the system is rigged. I’m saying that the levers are simply beyond our reach. One must have a hell of an institutional booster chair to make an imprint on the public consciousness. The other morning I heard my podcast reader of the Wall Street Journal explain how the German Marshall Fund has weighed in on whether or not Facebook should be justified in throttling the bandwidth of scandal stories now dogging Hunter Biden, son of the Senator, Vice President and Presidential candidate Joe. The German Marshall Fund has been around a very long time and one does not simply walk into that Mordor.
Internet links are weak links and so are the links of cosmopolitan citizenship. We do as we like and occasionally as we must to prove our worthiness to each other, but for the most part, we are affluent enough to play such social games when it pleases us and our egos, not out of necessity. I honestly don’t know what it was that most people thought they were doing to stop riots in America when they elected Richard Nixon in 1968. Maybe it was just to find somebody who wouldn’t be assassinated for a change. But I do trust that America was once and will again be capable of sustaining the proper debate that will inform future elections and provide a better recourse than what we have now. I think those internet links will have to grow stronger and represent better than they do. If I didn’t at all, I wouldn’t bother to write.
I enjoyed listening to the recent podcast between Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris. I think better than anyone they described a great man theory of American political psychosis. The great man, of course, is Donald Trump whose narcissism is so perfect that it draws you into an obsessive numbness at its sheer energetic destruction of any and all reasonable expectations of liberal democracy. Not only, according to their observations, is the office of the Presidency poisoned, but every institution that has attempted to counter his malfeasance have fallen prey to a self-destructive zealotry. Now the NYT cannot be trusted. The FBI cannot be trusted. Several judicial decisions have used such tortured logic in search of justice that their reputations have been stained as well. From the well understood lie about ‘good people on both sides’ to elaborate conspiracies of Trump as a paid Russian agent, people whose expectations of democracy to generate rational results have suffered emotional collapse, but not exhaustion. Trump derangement, like COVID, comes in waves. It might be here longer than anybody ever expected.
I do agree with them on one simple and obvious point. Trump is a man who has revealed himself to be the worst kind of American President. He’s a petulant mob boss that has overrun the executive branch, which executes nothing except amplifying his obfuscations, lies and self-justifications. He should have never been able to get within sniper distance of the Oval Office. I guess I agree with them on a second point but I believe it undermines the great man aspect of his psychotic touch. Trump has energized the Woke Mob in a way that no other candidate could have. Every flirtation he has with white American working stiffs generates more power for those who believe him to be a first class racist. He bans Muslims but not the COVID infected from other countries. He builds no wall against Mexicans, but between Americans who throw themselves against it like crazed zombies. Maybe they had the bug before Trump came around. That’s what I think. I think the fanatic defense of Trump by the Trumpist Right was completely predictable. They didn’t need QAnon, their circle jerk of distrust was already in place. The crazies on left and right were already in concentric counter-rotating circles around the White House with their pinkies linked. Trump only magnetically drew them closer as they locked their arms and the increased angular momentum of their orbs of outrage finally snapped their necks and made their brains fly out. But they could have just let go and turned away.
The corruption of the mainstream media and the dysfunction of social media has been well-known for a decade, at the very least. The blogosphere, long lamented and now being recreated here at Substack with a new business model, long knew its contesting of the attention of the American millions. So as bad as Trump is, and despite his acceleration of the novel paranoia virus of the electorate, strategically we were defenseless against his pestilence long before he opened his mouth. I said it before, and I’ll say it again, we have been populist not rationalist since the creation of MoveOn.org. Clinton started it. Impeachment is something we now will come to expect. Joe Biden may avoid it by dying. Just saying.
Harris and Sullivan lamented their inability to ignore the President for a couple weeks and look forward to a Biden Presidency that will enable that kind of bliss. I cry for their inner Karens though. If they were Stoic, they wouldn’t have given over that much of their inner peace to anything nearly as stochastic and maddening as the hopes and dreams of a populist electorate and hopes for a great man to ease our psyches.
Whichever way you vote tomorrow, or have voted already, my Stoic advice is simply this. Whatever the outcome you must be fully satisfied that you have done right. You have very little other recourse at any rate. It is possible that you have been poisoned by some form of the Derangement Syndromes in the air which have caused many millions to shame and censor strangers and cut off communications with their friends and family. That’s hardly democracy which calls us to take responsibility for ourselves and our polis. Even if you’ve suffered only the mildest case of this seasonal disorder, you should take comfort in having done your part. You have lit your candle in hopes that the bad breath of your neighbor won’t blow it out. If you are the peasant that I am, this should satisfy you completely. If it is your actual job to tend to the wishing candles at alter of democracy, take pride in that. You serve a mighty vehicle, and yet you must faithfully obey your superiors. They will give you your proper rewards. You too may rest with that assurance.
The fate of America, indeed of mankind does not hang in the balance. There will be predictable effects of the vote. You will survive in more or less comfort. If for some reason the discomfort of an unwanted result motivates you to run to the streets, you should be happy to know exactly what good that has done those who have done so this year.