A government is made up of institutions. Those institutions are made up of people. Regular ol’ people who get tired, frustrated and burnt out. People who haul their butts to the office to keep things cranking, even when our Congress decides to cease paying them for weeks on end. Most of them are under too much pressure. Most of them are very good people. And most of them aren’t getting the type of treatment they deserve, not by a long shot. Yet they step into the game anyway.
This is what keeps me from teetering over the brink into insanity this election season. An inglorious election season that started as a joke, morphed into a panic-ridden, exhausting and polarizing frenzy, and is now culminating in the most depressing, dehumanizing and endless of finales. No matter where the cards fall at the end, towards the candidate you choose or I choose, we have a lot of objectively good people working in government who will hold it together at the seams, and who will put aside their own personal views and frustrations to get the job done.
These people in government have, and will, encounter many frustrations. And like them, every single one of us has also been frustrated. At one time or another, we’ve felt that we haven’t been listened to. We haven’t had the opportunities we should. We don’t have the jobs we might have had. The debt is piling up on our shoulders. Our society is deteriorating. We are being discriminated against.
This election season has reemphasized something I have observed over my life time and time again. People respond to these feelings in one of two ways. There are those who suffer an injustice, or perceived injustice, and turn inwards. They become bitter, blame the world, look for a scapegoat and categorically refuse to take any responsibility for anything. They are the victim of great injustice, and damned if the world won’t know and pay for it.
Then there are those who, when trod upon, swear the most profound of oaths that no matter what happens, they are never going to treat another person the way they were treated. They accept their pain and in turn use it as a catalyst for increased empathy for humankind. They learn the great depth of the human spirit and experience the ultimate manifestation of compassion; ‘I have felt the indescribable agony of dehumanization, and I will fight with all my self such that others may never experience what I had to.’ The sting of discrimination lingers but they don’t just pack up their toys and go home. They step into the game, stand up to the bully on the playground and risk it all for a belief in a better, fairer world for everyone.
I remain steadfast in my belief that the people of our government, not the politicians, will hold us together in the end. Because I also believe that the type of person who commits him or herself to service in government, when they might have sought greater glory elsewhere, is the type of person who largely falls into the latter category. They will rise above. They will stay true.
And to those who fall into the former category, you may think you are alone in your experience of injustice. You may think that you have uniquely suffered. You may think that you, and you alone, deserved more and now someone must pay the price for your pain.
You are wrong. And you are fundamentally misguided in your belief of what it is to be American. The American spirit isn’t built on bitterness, anger, violence and complaints. Our nation became great because we worked hard without complaint, we were innovative, we forged communities, we treated our neighbor with respect and, despite our highly imperfect track record, the American spirit is one that understands and prioritizes equality. This may often manifest in an acknowledgement of when we failed to do so, and an intent to correct this going forward. We have made many mistakes. We can do better. But God help you if you are complaining because you’re no longer unequivocally being afforded privilege that was historically bestowed upon you by casualty of your birth gender and race.
As a child, I believed what I read about our country. I believed in freedom, equality, innovation and respect. God forbid we allow a generation of children to grow up without these ideals being lived out in front of them. The best gift we can give ourselves and our nation’s children is a belief in their country as a true beacon of hope to the world, and an understanding of the true American spirit; respect, tolerance and diversity.
In these bitter times, it can be so easy to forget that this is who we are. The first verse of our national anthem, the one you hear sung at sporting events the nation over, tells the story of fighting through the night. In the darkness, in the most hopeless of times, you are unable to see if the flag is still standing or if it, and as such your cause, have fallen in the darkness. Yet in the dawn’s light, beaten down and exhausted and at your lowest moment, you see in the sun’s first rays that our flag is still flying. We have continued to persevere.
* I would like to also take this opportunity to remind people that frustrated citizens have been voting for third party candidates since 1832, and in the subsequent 184 years not a single third party candidate has won a presidential election.