Op-Ed: Making it through that long night of our political discontent

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The author, ER Shipp, practices temporary serenity. (Courtesy Photo)

By ER Shipp

It has come to this: in the last days of the 2020 presidential campaign that has two camps each convinced that its side represents the salvation of America, while the other would lead this nation into oblivion, I, a certified news junkie, am willfully withdrawing. From news media and most social media.

My steady diet over the weekend leading up to the official election day, Nov. 3, included a minimum of news while catching up with a pile of unread magazines; finishing Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste, which my church book club is discussing; and as much binging of Netflix and Amazon Prime and old TV like Perry Mason and The Bernie Mac Show.

This is something between my great escape and desperately needed self-care, a term I’ve come to understand since March. But exercising one’s brain while guarding one’s heart does not mean apathy. I’m sending in last-minute contributions to candidates of my choice. In church Sunday I offered fellow congregants a roadmap for weathering these next days (and possibly weeks). I’ll do what I can to assist voters with snacks, supplies, and good cheer.

But I will not expose myself to a steady stream of hyperbolic, fear-mongering messaging by opposing political camps. Especially the Trumpers. “We are America and Donald Trump is our president,” is the tag line for one ad that paints Joe Biden as a Socialist hellbent on destroying the U.S. as certain white people prefer it. If you are not a Trumper, that message is as scary as a Jordan Peele universe, for it portends a dystopian society beyond imagination.

Normally, I inveigh my students at Morgan State University with that New York-honed spirit of staying on top of the news and ahead of the times. In other words, add more news and less social to daily intakes of information. However, since the pandemic upended our lives, I’ve been counseling self-care.

Think of my low-calorie news diet as modeling that behavior for my students — and for anyone else who is trying to figure out how to make it through the long night of our discontent, from Nov. 3 to however long it takes for us to definitively know who will be president for the next four years.

On Oct. 30, I received an email confirmation that my ballot had been counted in Baltimore, MD. By then more than 90 million people across the country had voted and, I hope, received comparable assurance. That said, there’s now little else to do but 1) help others who have yet to vote and 2) wait for the outcome.

Find a way to center yourself. Be patient. Breathe. Set yourself up for a wait that could feel as endless as that of a child counting the days from Halloween to Christmas.

We will not know who has won when Nov. 3 turns into Nov. 4. Maybe not for more than a week. And, even then, there might be a legal battle that makes the 2000 Gore-Bush contest seem like a mere dust-up.

Donald Trump declared the system rigged even before ballots were printed and rules established state by state for a presidential vote in the midst of a pandemic. He has done all he could to undermine confidence and to cripple the institutions Americans would typically rely on — everything from the United States Postal Service to the Centers for Disease Control to the judiciary to the news media.

I’m reminded of a saying with which I grew up: “One monkey don’t stop no show.” We are bigger than one man. Despite obvious attempts to rattle the underpinnings of our more than 230-year-old governing infrastructure and despite the unsettling exposure of its fissures, this country remains strong enough to endure and to fix what’s broken.

Still, we know that Donald Trump will not go quietly. He and his militia have all but promised chaos. Life as we know it — even this pandemic-shaped life we are all learning to manage — could be messy for a while.

But once political victory is certified for Trump or Biden, our real work must go into warp speed, starting with an election process that reveals the U.S. to be a sham exemplar of representative democracy, no longer a template for the rest of the world. Writing in the New York Times, the political sociologist Larry Diamond observes: “The good news is that two of the three pillars of American democracy — liberty and the rule of law — endure, even if they have been battered. But the third pillar — free and fair elections — is under far more direct threat than my fellow democracy experts predicted.”

Through the final count, I suggest adopting the traditional serenity prayer admonition to “accept the things I cannot change.” I will do that to preserve my sanity, temporarily. Then I intend to step into the attitude of Angela Davis: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

Written by ER Shipp:  A journalist who draws upon history — hers, her family’s, the nation’s — to make sense of our times.

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