The election approaches. Anxiety festers. Our national cultural and political tribes are at war. Many Americans feel something has gone very wrong with the country they love.
Channeling the national turmoil, one prominent political leader steps forward and declares:
“This time vote like your whole world depended on it.”
Many Americans today agree. And in a way, they’re right. There is an awful lot at stake on Tuesday.
The speaker then was Richard Nixon. It was 1968. He was running for president. And our nation, then as now, was in combat with itself.
The contours are rough but similar. Left and right squaring off from their ever-hardening corners, shouting but never listening. Growing economic inequality undergirding the political battles. Racism, overt or subtle, infecting the debate. And immigration — the demonization of people with brown skin allegedly preparing to invade from the south and commit havoc on Americans, especially women — now substituting for real concerns of 50 years ago about rising rates of crime and violence.
So we’ve seen this before. Then and now, for or against, it’s been a motivation to vote. Because none of us walks into a polling place alone. We bring with us our hopes and dreams and frustrations and disgust and ideals and enthusiasm and biases, all of it shaped in some way by the rhetoric — some truthful, some not — of the candidates who seek our approval.
At the center of the conversation is President Donald Trump. He appears on no ballots but animates nearly every debate with his fact-challenged invective and shrewd if crude political salesmanship.
For some voters, the election is about providing the moral guardrails that Trump refuses to abide by, or let stand.
For others, it’s a chance to ratify a strong economy and believe that the president will preserve the identity of the country as it was more than a half-century ago.
Do you vote to keep the House of Representatives in Republican hands to move Trump’s agenda forward? Or do you vote for Democrats to provide oversight of his administration, a check against his worst impulses, and the spark to move forward on health care, infrastructure and other issues?
Some voters are concerned about pocketbook issues, like a tax cut that went largely to wealthier people and which curtailed their ability to deduct state and local income and property taxes on their federal returns.
Some are appalled at the mailing of pipe bombs to Democratic leaders and Trump critics, seeing it as an attack on free speech and a turn to violence as ways to address political differences.
Some are reeling from the slaughter of 11 worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue, and hateful words online that apparently inspire such evil acts.
Some worry about the caravan of desperate migrants from Central America, and the threat to jobs and safety they might pose. Others are upset that our military is being massed on the border to stop them, with instructions from the president to treat stones thrown by marchers as firearms.
As partisans rage, many voters are sickened by the relentless attacks. Some candidates even have called their opponents traitors. The toxicity rivets attention like a bad auto accident but does more damage — important legislative work goes undone, trust in government is further eroded and our nation’s reputation is harmed around the world.
New York has rancor and bullying, too. And Long Island is the epicenter of that partisan fierceness. Tribal wars are in our regional DNA. This campaign has been worse than most.
That’s because control of the State Senate is at stake. If the Democrats net the one seat they need to take over, they will enjoy single-party rule of state government. That likely will hinge on races on Long Island.
Republicans trying to hang on have invoked fear, with dark warnings about New York City Democrats taking charge. The GOP promises to be a block. Democrats promise to move the state forward. The negativity in some races has been repellent, more so than usual. Further muddying the scene are backroom deals by party bosses to rig races — Republican voters in Suffolk County, in particular, need to be careful about reflexively voting for judges on the Conservative line; they really might be voting for a Democrat.
It’s not a pretty picture, here or nationally. It’s left many voters exhausted. We hope it doesn’t keep you from voting Tuesday. We know that the enmity will be part of the process. But we hope it inspires you to vote for something better, not more of the same.
As we wallow in our bile, a more hopeful model will be seen in another tradition unfolding Sunday — the New York City Marathon. More than 50,000 runners from across the nation and more than 100 countries will pound streets lined with 2.5 million spectators. It’s typically a display of diversity, unity and celebration — a vision of the very best of us.
Take that vision into your polling place, too.
Your world could depend on it.