What’s the use?

Three things I never leave home without: Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, my Rand McNally pocket atlas and a sample ballot for the next election printed on recycled card stock. These things matter greatly.

Listen, I don’t always vote for winners. But I’ll never vote for a chump.

I vote for dogs and puppies locked up in cages in Holmes County. I vote for farmers. I vote for the homeless, the wrongfully incarcerated, the disenfranchised pot dealers, the artists, the LGBTQ brothers and sisters, the kids, the Jewish families in Squirrel Hill and beyond, the disabled, the opioid addicts, the lonely, the forlorn, the lovesick, the crestfallen, the poor and hungry. I vote for clean air and public lands. I vote for the trees.

Shit, I rarely vote for the winners. But this county loves its chump business executives, huh? The ones standing behind the chump politico bastards they see on TV? They adore ’em. It’s a lascivious religion. What’s the use, though? What’s the point?

Seems to me that’s the central question this week. Not so much “Who’s side are you on?” But rather: “Who are you helping?”

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Violence

“They say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters — OK? It’s, like, incredible.”

– Donald Trump, Jan. 24, 2016

I hope that the midterm elections this week, when placed in far-reaching historical context, aren’t seen through such a narrow lens as something called “Trumpism.” “A verdict on ‘Trumpism.'” What is that? It scans to me like a compartmentalizing excuse, a silo.

The loyal people that Trump refers to in that standout moment from the 2016 presidential campaign — they’re still out there. They’ll be out there on Tuesday, standing behind you or in front of you in line. (Hopefully there’s a line!) They’ll be voting for violence again, for the feverish bloodlust of a leader who revels in domination and subjugation of the other. They are emboldened. And why shouldn’t they be? America has once again, reiterating stories from its past, placed violence on the mantle of our national virtues. Not human rights, not liberty, not global civilization.

Violence.

I’ll be voting against violence this week, to the best of my ability on the ballot. It’s a simple task, but one that, in substantial numbers, can indeed create a cascading effect in the opposite direction: away from violence and toward liberty.

But the violence will always be there.

Trump knows that. Trump knows that his loyal people know that. It’s a tool, really, for so many loud and malicious demagogues. They tell you what they want to do! They tell us what they will do! And those who drool, dead-eyed, over the wanton reign of violence — they get off the couch and cast their support for the angry man with the gun. He’ll kill the others! He’ll get rid of the blight! And, still, they lead unhappy lives of desperation, and no one’s pain is eased.

America has a long and well documented history of violence. It also has a long and well documented history of resistance, of respect for human rights and dignity, of artistic aspiration and harmony. The two stories aren’t intertwined — or are they? Can you have liberty without malice?

What are we voting for on Tuesday? For an end to “Trumpism” and this nightmare of a presidential administration? Probably, yes, in the short term. But when we look across a broader spectrum of American and human history, it’s that same old story, again and again: Lend your voice for the oppressors or the oppressed.

Words matter, after all. The present will be etched into the past. (When your grandchildren talk among themselves and their own families, how will they discuss your words, your lessons? Your life?) An election is a brief foothold in the quicksand of time, but it’s a vital amplification of voice.

Things used to be different

“My son received what can only be described as an ‘artichoke sandwich’ in his trick-or-treat bag last night. Did this happen to you guys too?”

“Jesus. No, not that I know of. An artichoke sandwich?”

“Yeah. Well, more of a wrap. Like the new things they have at Subway?”

“Those are really good.”

“They really are. You know, I went there yesterday during my lunch break, and, honestly, the kid behind the counter was acting a little odd.”

“How so?”

“Well, he started screaming at me about halfway through. And throwing lettuce at me. In fact, he threw the entire container of lettuce at me.”

“Did that hurt? That sounds like it might have hurt.”

“I ducked. But it severely injured the person behind me. An eye injury, of all things. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m not sure what happened to that guy.”

“Which guy?”

“The guy who was severely injured.”

“Well, I’d imagine he’s at the hospital, right? Recuperating?”

“That’s the funny thing. He left before the ambulance got there. He sort of crab-walked out of the restaurant and down the street. He may have gone into Target? For some gauze?”

“Crab-walked?”

“You know, on his hands and feet? Almost scuttling?”

“Surely.”

“…”

“Well, what happened to the other guy then?”

“He actually calmed down pretty quickly! Would you believe that? Went ballistic, and then just resumed his work. Just needed to blow off some steam, I guess?”

“Everybody’s on edge, I tell ya.”

“Can’t even trick-or-treat anymore without some prankster sticking an artichoke in a kid’s pillow case. Things used to be different. You sure this didn’t happen to you guys?”

Implosion

See how society maximizes violence? See how a country collapses? Look!

“Despite continuous calls for sensible gun control and mental health care, our elected leaders in Washington knew that it would fade away in time. Unless there is a dramatic turnaround in the mid-term elections, I fear that that the status quo will remain unchanged, and school shootings will resume. I shouldn’t have to include in my daily morning prayers that God should watch over my wife and daughter, both teachers, and keep them safe. Where are our leaders?”

– Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, 7/19/18

Vote kindness

“I vote for dogs. Simple as that. Every election: dogs. Big ones, little ones. Boxers. Bichons. Boxer-hound mixes, my personal favorite. Know why? Dogs are kind. They’re loving. They’re great. They build walls of toys, and then they tear them down. They nuzzle. They nuzzle! They love children, and they love the voiceless and oppressed among us. Their notion of power is skewed along canine lines only; otherwise, they’re equal-opportunity allies of all that is good in the world. What I mean to say is, listen, I’m not writing in Fido for mayor. (I may have done that once, alright? Back in ’17. Had to. I look out for my city.) No. I vote for people who support dogs. It may not come up in a debate, but you can tell right off the bat whether this guy or that gal supports dogs. It’s not a difficult call if you’re even halfway observant. I’m not saying that you need to go out and adopt a dog today. If you want to, sure, but I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that a basic litmus test could serve this country a hell of a lot better than social media rhetoric and political funding vehicles — PACs, they call them! I vote for PACKS. Simple as that. And if that’ll get you to the polls, so be it. Vote for dogs. They can’t vote! Poll workers don’t like to have to kick them out, but they’ll do it on Election Day. I’ve seen it! Help out a pooch, why don’t ya? Vote for somebody who supports dogs. You think this president even likes dogs? You think he wouldn’t kick a pug if it were sitting between him and a Filet-o-Fish? He’s a bloated ego. A fool! And your friends and mine voted him in! 63 million zombie Americans! A goddamned fool! Doesn’t even like dogs! You can fix that, though. We can all fix this shoddy worksmanship. Just need to patch it up real quick. Just need to vote for dogs in this election. Simple as that. That’s what I’ll be doing on Election Day. Thinking of Forrest and Petey and Josie and Sophie and all the dogs that ever lived when I cast my ballot. I vote for dogs. I also vote for prison reform and public lands. Simple as that.”

The unforeseen disaster

“As Lindbergh’s election couldn’t have made clearer to me, the unfolding of the unforeseen was everything. Turned wrong way round, the relentless unforeseen was what we schoolchildren studied as “History,” harmless history, where everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page as inevitable. The terror of the unforeseen is what the science of history hides, turning a disaster into an epic.”

Philip Roth, The Plot Against America