I’m Voting for Our Common Humanity

A thought experiment: What if the current presidential election pitted Tim Kaine against Mike Pence? What would be the tone of argument, attack and vituperation between two, by most all accounts, decent middle-aged men who exhibit next to no bombast and would appear to harbor precious few skeletons, legal or otherwise, in their respective closets? Might the entire campaign have been conducted with at least a modicum of respect and focus on the issues of the day rather than the character flaws of the combatants, er, candidates?

What if Kaine and Pence weren’t relegated mostly to defending the figures at the top of their tickets while savagely attacking the other’s, but instead would have been free to wax presidential about their plans for the country?

Or would it have been only a matter of time, in this riven age, before these two decent men were reduced and dragged through the same foul vitriol that has plagued the contest between their running mates?

In other words, is the problem of this perhaps most salacious and depressing electoral season in modern history the widely perceived notion that we have been presented with two fatally flawed candidates of record unpopularity, or is the problem that the political climate we live in today would have just as readily chewed up our vice presidential candidates and anyone else who would dare venture toward its maw?

Is the problem the people we keep nominating or the system—political, cultural, media-driven—by which we somehow manage to produce them?

Are we just sick of the Clintons and the dynastic trend they seem to represent, while at the same time being duly repelled by the vileness that Donald Trump has shown no inclination to modify?

Voting in India, the world’s largest democracy, 2014


Everywhere I turn and everyone I talk to
expresses the same fretfulness, the same edge of concern, of contending with people in their families or friendship circles who are unaccountably, inexplicably, lining up to vote for (Trump) (Clinton).

More than at anytime in memory, the fault lines run deeper, accompanied by more profound emotion and anxiety, that this election stands as some type of watershed, a referendum not just on the future direction of our country in economic and political terms, but a referendum on our essential character as a people.

Assuming most all human beings share qualities of compassion and general helpfulness that transcend politics, qualities that are at the very core of our best selves and aren’t, as a rule, inaccessible to most all of us, then is that maybe a place to start? At our commonalities?

And the haunting questions underneath it: How do I even talk to or live alongside people who don’t comprehend the awfulness of (Trump) (Clinton)? What does it say about a country that is prepared to elect (THAT person) as our president?

My own biases are clear: Trump would be an utter travesty, an emphatic descent into our nation’s id and all that is worst in us, while Clinton stands quite solidly, whatever one may feel about her political inclinations, in the historical mainstream of presidential candidates and the preparedness they bring to the office. (The fact that she would be the first female president is its own distinction, of course, but that is beside the point that she’s within the historical parameters in every other way of the kind of people who run for and sometimes win the presidency.)

But I also have to admit, because the evidence is right there in front of me, that countless many people in the Trump camp feel exactly the way about Clinton that I feel about Trump. All the same vehement opposition, the same recoiling and despairing about what her candidacy and election might entail.

Are they wrong? I think so, but it doesn’t appear I feel more strongly about their wrongness than they do about mine.

***

So what are we going to do about this come Wednesday? The losing side’s population looks for a hideout in Mexico or Costa Rica where it can ride out the next administration from afar without having to endure the stomach-churning despair that is certain to ensue?

I’d like to think better possibilities abound, that better angels of our nature may yet surface.

How about this—the radicalness of ascribing human qualities to those with whom we radically disagree?

Another thought experiment: The guy in the pickup truck with the gun rack and the NRA bumper sticker— could he be our brother? Most certainly some of us liberals do have literal brothers like that, with whom we have to try making our peace (or not).

But what about that guy in the truck as our spiritual brother?

If, like the victim in the story of the Good Samaritan, we were lying helpless by the road, do we think he would stop to help, maybe save our lives and thereby create a sacred bond that would last our lifetime? Is there any reason to believe he would be less inclined to do so than one of our brothers or sisters who still sports a “Feel the Bern” bumper sticker from the Sanders campaign on their car?

A Richard Charles sculpture in Calvisson, France

Assuming most all human beings share qualities of compassion and general helpfulness that transcend politics, qualities that are at the very core of our best selves and aren’t, as a rule, inaccessible to most all of us, then is that maybe a place to start? At our commonalities?

Might there be a lot more of those than we have let ourselves think in the white heat, demonization and whipped-up frenzy that have come to define modern electoral politics?

Might we cast an eye and cock an ear to transcendent language, helping language, an unprejudiced approach to everyone as an equal brother or sister in the eyes of eternity? Can we build on such a fundamental notion, no matter our liberal or conservative stripes?

Many of us will be sitting opposite family members this holiday season who voted opposite us just weeks prior to the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables where we will gather. The new president will yet to be inaugurated. Most of us, I trust, will overcome or work around any awkwardness we may have felt about the outrageous electoral choices those family members made. We will do so by cleaving to the bonds of blood, familiarity, and history that have seen us share our stories and laughter and tragedies, food and drink and conviviality, over many years in the past.

Sure, we can disown our family if we prefer. But without consulting any data, I’m pretty sure that has a lousy track record in fostering human happiness.

It’s not all that much different in the much larger and more fractious family of our nation. Blood families share permeable walls, their members scattering far and wide, with intermittent communication and disparate lifestyles, philosophies and dreams. But they still come together now and again, as the families they are, in clusters of mutual concern.

And guess what? A nation is a family writ large. We still have to live together unless we decide to cut and run. We can’t do so with any hope of success unless we recognize our common humanity. And the psychological truth is we can’t diminish anyone’s humanity without diminishing our own in return.

We have to decide, one by one, not so much what kind of nation we will be, but what kind of person we ourselves will be.

The nation will be the sum total of those decisions.

***

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Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at the top of this page. Some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhaslam/

Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: larry@rosefoto.com 

Vote sticker photo by Erik Thauvin, Everett, Washington, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/kire/

Line of voters in India by Sundaram + Annam, Cennai, India, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sunciti_sundaram/

Photo of “L’Homme et l’Enfant,” a sculpture by Richard Charles in Calvisson, France, by Philippe Charles, Aubervilliers, France, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/philch6/

9 comments to I’m Voting for Our Common Humanity

  • Terry  says:

    Andrew,

    Thank you for posting this. I have to admit that I too, like many you describe in your piece, believe that both of these candidates are indeed “fatally flawed.” And, I admit as well that I happen to believe one of the two is significantly worse than the other. However, the truth is that I’d hate to have to try and live on the difference between the essential substance of these two personas. or to try to defend the virtue of either one of their behavioral paths to the present moment.

    I also happen to believe that these two have fulfilled completely and absolutely the design of those in control of our world who live in its shadows and manipulate its politics and finances, among many other significant things that affect us all. Their design seems to have been premised on the timeworn warlike strategy of “divide and conquer.” Or perhaps a more fitting statement of what I mean comes from a line in one of my favorite plays: “He that troubleth his own house . . . shall inherit the wind.” These two “candidates,” and I use that word very loosely, have summoned and manifested the chaos of a tornado-like wind, one that was designed to do just what it’s done: Pit brother against brother, so to speak, and so on. It’s not the first time in history that it’s been done, to be sure, but this time I have the sense that it may have been done more out of desperation than anything else.

    When I finished reading your writing, I had this almost overwhelming feeling that this election’s chaos and frenzied “demonization” may actually be the death throes of a long existing effort to suppress the “common humanity,” the divine essence if you will, of the earth’s inhabitants, the animals and the earth herself included. The diabolic design or metapurpose, in other words, may have backfired. Should this turn out to be true, what will occur will not necessarily be a change but rather a restoration or a remembering of who we are as human beings. I’m not saying that things will become peachy keen overnight. The wounds will have to heal somewhat, but what will heal them is the realization of the common humanity you mention, the realization that our world, and not just our nation, “is a family writ large.” That realization, I believe, will be the lifeline that lifts us and our world out of the chaotic turbulence of the sea that the purposeful winds have “whipped up.”

    No matter who may “win” this election, I choose to believe that the family that is our world will ultimately not only survive but will thrive in the love, the light, and the “common humanity” that results from this failed attempt to drive us into darkness. I may be wrong, of course, but I feel a lot better imagining this outcome than I did the outcome I had in mind before I read your most thoughtful and profound essay.

    Thank you again.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Terry, this is one of those occasions when a Comment becomes an eloquent essay that compels me to think more deeply about my own words and further shapes their contours, so I thank you very much for it. The word “paroxysm” came to mind when I read this, followed by “convulsion.” Like many longed for in the Bernie camp and to far darker effect in the Trump camp, we seem to have arrived at a tempestuous crossroads where there is so much revulsion to politics as usual that it has propelled an unshackled call for change, however the hell we can get it, and to whatever effect. There’s a distinct anarchist strain running through much of it, I believe (“Let’s bring the whole house down and start over”), but once Tuesday is in our rear view mirror and assuming we can avoid long trails of blood in the streets and recriminations therefrom, perhaps the tempest will have expelled a good part of itself and there will be some extended and sober reckoning on what we have wrought and where we might go from here. There may be some truth to “It’s always darkest before dawn,” though that dawn may be a while in its coming, and it may arrive with its own clouds. But one can only hope, and live in that hope, and throw one’s tiny pebble of a good thought here and a kind action there into hope’s pond, and see where the ripples might extend.

  • Francine Phillips  says:

    I recently took my sisters and their husbands out for the evening to thank them for taking care of me when I couldn’t get out of bed from April to September. The first words from one was, “No politics!” Another had some passionate remarks anyway. We struggle to respect each other on most other topics, so politics is the least of our divisions. Yet they were family and we made it through the year, through the dinner and are looking forward to a Christmas gathering. A better mantra might be “No criticizing!” or “No sarcasm!” and better yet, don’t demand it, but just live it.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Francine, the “no politics, no religion” rule many family and friends adopt when getting together can be effective in curtailing hot button issues in which it is very difficult to keep emotions effectively in check, but it also feels surpassingly strange that two such central elements in human life and culture are verboten for discussion. I think that’s particularly true now, when this seeming watershed election is at the very forefront of the nation’s consciousness, but we twist and contort ourselves into near unrecognizable shapes in order to avoid discussing it. (Reminds me of that line, “No, Denial is not a river in Egypt.”) But that may well be the better strategy if plunging in means runaway emotions and bruised feelings that everyone later regrets. I think your two mantras/rules are a really good place to start, though. Seems to me that respectful dialogue between those holding disparate views is not a skill that comes naturally. it requires practice, clear ground rules and no small amount of intention.

  • Jay Helman  says:

    Oh my, so much to digest here, including insights from Terry and Francine. First, to Andrew’s opening on a Kaine/Pence campaign. I suspect that neither would touch the raw hatred and distrust surfaced by our actual candidates, making for a more “traditionally” heated clash of ideologies and viewpoints; a clash that has grown in intensity and harshness in recent years irrespective of candidates or level of office sought. A fundamental question in my mind is the cause of this elevated vitriol. Indeed, is it elevated or just more exposed in our 21st century age of media? There have been no recent pistol duals or “canings” in Congress, after all. So, Andrew, I believe that Kaine-Pence would be quite heated and intensely partisan, but within the bounds of civility that we have accepted as strong disagreement and public discourse. But how to grasp Clinton-Trump remains the question and here I am leaning toward Terry. That is, if I am truly understanding his thinking. In trying to make sense of what we’ve been through in this campaign, my best attempts turned to more “meta” or metaphysical thinking. Rational, evidence-based/historical precedent approaches have been dead ends. This all left me with “perhaps-this-just-had-to-happen” thinking. But why? Maybe, I’ve thought, because the darkest hour comes before the dawn. So the divisiveness noted by Terry has perhaps been thrust back into our faces in such grotesque ways that we are forced to take note and reflect with genuine concern. Francine’s note on family further reinforces the point, and is one I have found to be troubling with beloved friends and family whose support of a candidate leaves me dumbfounded and speechless, and constrains our abilities to be open and honest. None of this will be fundamentally different on November 9, but we can hope that none of us wants to travel this way again and that perhaps the same is true of Congress members who will begin to remember that they serve the common good, and begin to act accordingly. Thanks so much for this post Andrew. Cheers

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      You’re right, Jay, the Trump candidacy that had so many of us chortling gleefully in the beginning left us—along with all 15 of his primary opponents—shell-shocked that it actually came to fruition. And then to grasp at the straws of explanation and understanding for what we missed. Listening live on radio to his campaign stop speech in Minneapolis on Sunday, the overwhelming anger, rage and resentment he was expressing, and the hearkening back to some mythical golden time he was going to restore to his equally enraged audience, was like a dark menacing cloud, deeply troubling.

      Yet it also had me thinking later that in some meta sense that you suggest, the expression and release of this anger, which has apparently been building all along and finally found its perfect vehicle in Trump, is perhaps a good or at least necessary thing in the long run. It’s there, it’s real, it has to be dealt with. Better above ground and via electoral politics, however ugly, than continuing to linger and seethe in the shadows. Whether it will become something of an expressed, released and spent force if Trump loses remains to be seen, with a good part of that determined, I think, by how close the election results are and how Trump comports himself in the aftermath. And if he wins or the election outcome is razor-thin with disputed vote counts, then hold onto your hat…

  • Amy  says:

    Thank you for so much for your words. You’ve expressed what i believe is at the very heart of the matter. We are indeed one big family. I’ve been keeping this quote very close lately: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Rumi.
    I still believe in humanity. I believe we possess everything we need to thrive on this planet, if we can get out of our own way. Finding the jewel in adversity (Shakespeare called it the jewel in the toads head) is to find growth through facing our differences. But when respect and common courtesy isn’t present in our conversations, whether those at our own dinner tables or at the campaign microphones, the process breaks down. I vote – to keep love in the room.
    May we all mind the quality of our own conversations today, and every day.

    Here’s the Wm. Shakespeare passage:
    “Sweet are the uses of adversity,
    Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
    Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
    And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
    Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
    Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.”

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      There you have it, Amy: keeping love in the room, watching what we say, how we make people feel, especially kids, whether we’re watching them or vice versa. Clinton’s commercials showing kids watching Trump’s multiple vile comments from the podium are particularly piercing in this regard. I still believe in humanity, too: such a ridiculously huge preponderance of which is helpful, caring, compassionate and kind, just going about their well-meaning lives without fanfare—especially when they’re released from fear. Leaders who stoke that fear have never led us anywhere except to more of it. Thanks for sharing these passages. Rumi and Shakespeare are a fine tonic for election morning!

  • joan voight (@shapelygrape)  says:

    So here it is, finally, Election Day. Heaven help us all.

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