“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” — James Baldwin
About a week ago I began feeling a steady, low-level anxiety in my stomach. I thought it was due to the increased stress around Zoom school for my kids and other challenges, but none of my usual coping strategies seemed to shake it. And after some reflection, I realized that it was related to the stress of the 2020 election.
November 3rd is coming. And it seems as though my body remembers Election Night 2016, and it is preparing for the worst.
In between sobs, I just kept saying the word “No” over and over. It couldn’t possibly be. How could this be our country? I texted friends. I called my mom. I complained to my God. It took me weeks to recover emotionally.
Am I a liberal snowflake, so fragile, so naive? Yes. Or at least I was. I’m still fragile and easily upset, and I’m quite fine with that. But I’m less naive now. I think we all are. Sometimes suffering can be a wise teacher, and these past 4 years have provided some valuable lessons.
We’ve learned that for many millions of Americans, Trump is their guy. They do not tolerate him; they love and adore him. And their adoration has only increased over the past 4 years. If Trump loses, his supporters won’t trust the results, and they will resist every action of a Biden presidency.
We’ve learned that our democratic institutions are not as strong as we thought they were. They require public trust that takes years to establish but only a few tweets to undo.
And we’ve learned that our dreams of an enlightened, equitable society are a long, long way off. Somewhere around half of the population believes we’re already an enlightened, equitable society, so why would we need to change anything?
Our country is built upon centuries of injustice and inequity that will take centuries of healing and restoration to undo. And every step of progress provokes enormous pushback from people who rightly understand that their unjust wealth and power is threatened. As Saint James (Baldwin) said, “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
With such an enemy, we can expect that while a 2020 Blue Wave will help, it will not fix the things that desperately need fixing.
Even if we win the White House and take the Senate—and we somehow end the filibuster, add more justices to the Supreme Court, pass another COVID-relief bill, secure more protections for the rights of LGBTQ people, enact immigration reform, address climate change through federal legislation, and much more—these will only be small steps in the scale of universal justice.
Barack Obama helped popularize Martin Luther King Jr.’s prophetic announcement, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I appreciate this hopeful vision, but I dislike its fatalism. The only thing we can say with certainty about the arc of the universe is that it is long. That’s it. Any kind of moral arc, any bending toward justice, doesn’t just happen because of some inherent magic in the universe. Justice happens when we make it happen.
While our work towards justice and liberation is endless, it need not be joyless. Every victory, every step towards justice, is worth celebrating. If Biden wins the White House, let’s throw a massive Zoom party with 10,000 screens of bliss. Raise a glass, ring the bells, embrace your partner, kiss your kids, and tweet your heart out. And if we take the Senate, let’s extend that party for 40 days and nights. But let us not forget the lessons of these past 4 years. Let us celebrate, and then get back to the work of liberation.
And if Trump wins…
And if the Senate remains in the hands of the minority of Americans who resist our just cause…
And if the Supreme Court overturns Obamacare and marriage equality and…
Then we will have much to grieve. Embrace your partner, kiss your kids, and tweet your heart out.
This is our work. And whether this election brings great joy or great grief, we know we must renew our commitment to liberation on this long road of suffering.