Bright spots

Not only did Democrats retake the House — achieving a vital check on Trump’s and Republicans’ ability to ravage hope for a better future. Democrats also gained seven new governor’s offices, defeating vote suppressor Kris Kobach in Kansas, union buster Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and the would-be successor to Maine’s Trumpian outgoing governor. Four of these seven seats were flipped by women. And Democrats flipped six state legislative chambers, including both houses in New Hampshire.

Several states passed measures to make voting easier or redraw voting districts; most notably Florida restored the voting rights of the disenfranchised millions who have been convicted in a criminal justice system biased against minorities and the poor. Three rural states voted to expand Medicaid and two voted to raise the minimum wage.

There were some bad results, too, but it is more telling for the long term to look at changes in direction rather than binary outcomes. Republicans did not flip any governorships or state legislative chambers throughout the country. The only major shift in favor of Republicans was the Senate, the least democratically representative of our elected bodies.

Our cave just got a little brighter.

Shadows

As in Plato’s allegory, we live in a cave. We don’t know what life looks like outside the confines of systemic hierarchies of control over resources. We can scarcely imagine it. At best we can guess from the play of shadows on the wall that there is a brighter world out there.

The squeeze

Many voters are relatively thoughtful and open to voting Democratic or Republican or third-party in any given election, based on pragmatic concerns rather than a pre-commitment to ideology or cultural identity. The problem is that no party may adequately represent these open-minded voters’ interests — especially if they have a half-decent income. Democrats tend to represent the interests of the worst off, Republicans tend to represent the interests of the best off, and people in the middle must choose whom they will sacrifice for. Since they are not so well off, they understandably feel it would be unfair to pay more taxes, even if they recognize that the worst off need help, so they vote Republican in hopes that lower tax rates and deregulation will benefit them. But in the long term these policies so damage the environment, economy, and people’s lives that they must be paid for later by, of course, the middle class.

This pattern of duping and squeezing out the middle class should not be blamed on Democrats trying to help the worst off, but it should be acknowledged that Democratic policies are merely triage — and triage by band-aid solutions. What we really need is systemic healing of the pandemic that is capitalism.

Military logic

How odd: Those who tend to feel entitled to an authority role in their family, job, society — especially, conservative white men — tend to unquestioningly believe and follow Trump. In other words, people who consider themselves superior are willingly inferior to Trump. One might have thought the strength they valorize would demand they be fiercely independent thinkers and actors, leaders unto themselves. This counterintuitive dynamic preceded Trump, of course: conservative white men who purport to value toughness and individualism have long sworn allegiance to the flag and God and denounced anyone who dares to question whether either deserves such adulation.

Upon further reflection the logic becomes clear. It is not rugged independence that is valued, but its opposite: hierarchy. Devotion to Trump, the flag, and God does not undermine their claim to authority but bolsters it. By bowing to their authority figures they are enacting the subservience they feel entitled to from their wives and children, their coworkers beneath them in the organizational chart, their neighbors who are members of a minority.

Unsurprisingly, the military is a helpful analogy: the fact that a sergeant obeys a commander does not diminish the sergeant’s power over his troops, but augments it. The soldier must obey the sergeant’s orders because those orders are invested with the authority of the entire chain of command. Similarly, a conservative white man’s power within his family, job, and society is invested with all the authority of America’s global superpower status — which explains another mystery, the apparent contradiction between Trump’s avowed “America First” isolationism and the reality of our continuing military intervention throughout the world.

From the heart

I just want to be free — to breathe without air pollution, to think and reflect without sound pollution, to explore nature without the pollution of development, to explore culture without the pollution of borders. There is beauty all over the world and in my heart but with few exceptions all I see and feel within this prison of an economy is ugly.

I want freedom not only of space but of time: not to toil away the best years of my life so I can have health care and a roof over my head — but to have health and housing so I can live my best life. Not that I want everything handed to me so I do not have to work; I want to work hard to create a life of my own choosing.