As a kid when we drove the Pennsylvania turnpike the highlight of the trip involved going through the several tunnels, rolling down the windows, and yelling to hear our echoes. As a driver going into a tunnel, however, there is just enough of a slight uncertainty about adjusting to the darkness when you go in, and, if the tunnel feels too long, there is wariness in the moment when you just want it to end and to get back out into the light. (My wariness with tunnels actually gets personal. While driving a brand new factory purchased Saab in Europe many years ago we suddenly entered a long tunnel. My wife was driving the car for the first time and couldn’t immediately find the headlight switch, and we skidded and crashed into the side of the tunnel while still in the dark, until we figured it out how to turn the lights on. So even today I don’t particularly like going through tunnels…which segues me into why I am writing about tunnels this evening.)
I kept thinking about tunnels this past week because it is such an apt metaphor as we go into the next several months with only limited "tunnel vision” for what’s ahead and no clear light at the other end. The dictionary defines tunnel as “a passage through or under some obstacle,” and that seems like an appropriate, succinct description of the passage we must negotiate in the next couple of months as we prepare for the presidential election and, hopefully, a peaceful transition of power.
As I spoke with friends this week I found them also becoming increasingly anxious about the election, not just about the acceptability and success of the mail-in voting process; nor about the actual results of the voting; nor about the complicated calculations related to the electoral college (what a strange term now that I think about it!). The real concern is whether the president will declare the election invalid if he looses, followed by mass outrage and street conflict in response, followed by some form of martial law controlled by the president. And if we go that route, the democratic structure of government has failed, at least temporarily. I don’t think this is just another conspiracy theory. Given the president has clearly stated he will not accept the results if he looses, the gravity of the plausibility of serious national chaos has begun to sink in. This could be dangerous, dark “tunnel” indeed.
We as a nation for the past six months and more have been almost completely distracted by our personal preoccupation of coping with of the Corvid-19 virus, the moral reckoning and national street disruptions of the Black Lives Matter movement, the still fomenting MeToo! Movement, the national Poor Peoples Campaign to address poverty, the still momentous but unfortunately back-burnered climate change crisis, and the drama of the electoral campaigns themselves. And all the distractions have been perfect cover for the president’s apparent intentions of sabotaging the elections and of securing exclusive control of the government before we know it. We are understandably reluctant to believe all this is possible in spite of what he has overtly declared.
This is not a welcome wake up call, and I hesitated to try to write about it. It is so difficult to accept how weak and inept our current check and balance system and democratic process has become in the face of the self-serving lawlessness of the current presidency and his compliant supporters. But European history’s account of the rise of fascism provides a lesson we cannot ignore if we are to preserve our democratic experiment.
As I often write in my blog, I want very much for my writing to provide a sense of inspiration, a lift, while also honestly acknowledging current levels of concern and anxiety. This evening I am increasingly convinced we cannot rely on an idealized assumption that the present democratic system will simply hold steady on its own. The president has sufficiently wounded that idealism with cynicism and deliberately flaunting disrespect for our democratic institutions, the press, science, anyone who dares to criticize, and now apparently even the military. So now we face the test about how committed we are as a divided nation to demand the right to lift our voice in a fair, transparent election process. And if the people do choose (or are forced) to continue with our current leadership, we will need to reckon with the consequences of that. But if we choose to demand a fair election that elects alternative leadership, and further to demand the rightful authority of that new leadership, we have reason to believe in the hope for “light at the end of the tunnel.”
In my mind the coming election represents a potential crucial transition as we begin to trans-form the various forms of oppression and harm our economic and social systems have imposed on so many of us, especially the poor. But those forms of economic systems have enriched and privileged those in power, and they will not easily accept their loss of privilege. Let’s be clear: the election itself is only a beginning of a long tunnel of struggle to create a more just and peaceful nation within the context of an international, planetary community.
For me the election also represents a vote for a more democratic process of cooperation in the service of the common good. The election is especially destined to send a message to our young people. What can they believe in during such an unsettled time? Can they believe that the long arc of MLK’Jr’s envisioned justice will support them as they seek to live full and meaningful lives? How are those of us who are the elders to help manage a cultural and governmental transition that supports the coming generations? This historic election is about providing the opportunity for our young to continue to try to create a “more perfect union” where all of us can work together to find solutions to the local and global issues that cry for creative attention, supported by a renewed sense of democratic intention and practice.
Please not only plan to vote this November, but get involved in recruiting a hundred new voters as well. And let us all support the nonviolent option of voting with our time, financial resources and networking systems. Take seriously the grave responsibility this election represents. And let us keep looking for that light at the end of our current uncertain tunnel with hope and resolve.