Final Thoughts Before the Apocalypse

Isaac Lunt, Johns Hopkins University:

Unless you’re Donald Trump, I probably do not need to tell you that Election Day is Tuesday. If you’re reading this hot off the presses, that’s tomorrow. By Wednesday morning we’ll all know whether it will be Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton who will be sworn in as the forty-fifth President of the United States in January.

It seems more likely than not that Hillary Clinton will win the presidency, but any sense of certainty that may have followed the presidential debates has waned significantly. Since the latest chapter in The Never-Ending Email Scandal was authored and prematurely published by FBI Director James Comey, Clinton’s lead has slipped to somewhere in the 2-4-point range, depending on the polls, a far cry from the commanding 7-point lead she held only weeks ago. Polls reflecting Comey’s announcement on Sunday night that the bureau’s recommendation against indictment wouldn’t change have not yet been released. It may be too little, too late to sway many voters again.

If you are committed (as I am) to seeing Clinton elected to the White House on Tuesday, the downward track of her lead should worry you: worry, but not petrify. Though Election Day anxiety is justifiably high, Hillary should still win. She leads in key swing states; she is still polling higher than her opponent; she is still the most qualified person for the job. If it had not been so close to Election Day, this email fiasco would be just another blip on a long, bumpy road to the presidency.

The problem is, it’s the end of the road. And though the candidates will undoubtedly continue to campaign by way of rallies and advertisements, this election is now in the hands of the voters.

Look – I know there is a lot of skepticism among my millennial peers about the value of voting. You may think your vote doesn’t matter because your state always goes one way; because you believe both candidates are shills; because you think that, no matter what, the ruling elite is going to manipulate democratic values for their own interests; because in the grand scheme of things we’re all just tiny specks of dust and how could a ballot cast change the trajectory of the stars? I get it. In a time when we are so seemingly divided and progress seems to move at glacial pace, it is easy to become apathetic.

I am not here to vilify those who don’t vote. There are many people in this country who work tirelessly to further the public good and choose not to vote out of protest. There are many in this country (especially people of color) that cannot vote because they are disenfranchised and unprotected, because they cannot reach their polling stations, or because they cannot afford to take the day off from work. And there are many people who vote every cycle, renew a sense of self-righteousness and then excuse themselves from participating in political activism for the next four years. Voting does not a man make by any means; I wouldn’t want my encouragement of civic participation to be conflated with blame or sanctimony. But you should absolutely vote.

Last night I watched Before the Flood, the latest documentary on Global Climate Change, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and produced in conjunction with National Geographic. It’s a sprawling, ambitious film that showcases a bearded, man-bunned  DiCaprio traveling the globe, interviewing everyone from devastated farmers in rural India to tech magnate Elon Musk to President Obama. It was eye-opening in more ways than one—I’d like to spend an entire article’s worth of words discussing everything from renewable energy to policy to DiCaprio’s problematic lifestyle—but the most striking thing about the film was its equitable blend of pessimism and optimism. In DiCaprio’s depiction, we are only a few good leaders and a few smart people away from solving this problem. But there is also a sense that that has always been the case, and that if current complacency continues, the human race may miss its last window for combatting climate change.

On Tuesday the United States, owner of the world’s largest carbon footprint, will elect its new government. Donald Trump says climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese. Marco Rubio has let Miami flood with his fingers in his ears. Mitch McConnel has played violin while the forests burn. People across the world (and even here in America) are feeling the impacts of climate change. Just look at Louisiana. Just look at Haiti.

It seems obvious to say, but the people we choose to put in power make a difference from local levels all the way to the presidency. Even if thinking about the way your senator affects environmental policy seems too obscure, do you think important social movements like Black Lives Matter will have a voice under a President Trump? Do you think a Trump-picked Supreme Court will defend a woman’s right to choose or a gay couple’s right to marry? Do you think the arts, the sciences, the rights to freedom of religion will be recognizable after even one term of Trump? Do you think the progressive battles we wish to fight in the future will even have an arena? Even if you dislike Hillary, even if you’re justifiably skeptical about the foundations of our democracy, even if the agonizingly slow pace of progress frustrates you to the point of apathy, you must recognize that the people we put in power affect us profoundly. They shape the world in which we live. Policies aren’t just jargon and things aren’t unchangeable. Social structures, scientific progressions, cultural shifts: these rise and fall in decades. We cannot be blinded by our location in time. We have to recognize that our choices matter deeply, not just to those that will come, but to us as well. Do you think the world would look this way if Al Gore had been elected in 2000?

If we are lucky, this election is the beginning of something and not the end of it. If Donald Trump has done the world any favors, it is that he has personified much of the horrific ignorance that has poisoned this country since its foundation. If Hillary Clinton wins, things won’t be perfect. In fact, it is likely that things will continue to move very slowly. But—and I feel like I should not even have to say this—is not a slowly leftward-moving country where immigrants, blacks, Muslims, gays, and women aren’t directly threatened by their president preferable to one where deportations, police brutality, Muslim registries, and sexual assault aren’t just considered, they are lauded? This election isn’t even really about winning or losing political battles; it’s about whether or not the good fight will even have a chance to get in the ring.

In a moving scene from Before the Flood, Dr. Piers Sellers of NASA describes trying to understand the Earth’s systems intellectually without observing them from space as being “like an ant trying to understand what an elephant looks like by crawling all over the elephant.” Understanding our individual impacts on our collective history is similarly paradoxical: until you can look back, it’s hard to see what you’ve done. I beg you not to become moored in cynicism and indifference when it comes to this election. Progress is at stake. Think about the damage a hurricane can do to a community in just one day. Think about the injury a racist judge can do to a young black man’s life. Think about the damage a person like Donald Trump can do to millions in four years. It is not an overstatement to say that the fates of billions are on the ballot Tuesday. Please vote. But after that, don’t become uninvolved. The march leftward must be perpetual, or it will halt. Even if Clinton wins on Tuesday; even if the senate flips; even if Donald Trump and all his supporters suffer a collective aneurism, there will still be fights to fight, and we must all be fighting them.


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