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Decision 2016, And The Morning After In America

Jessica Hoffman of Columbus, Ohio, votes early at the Franklin County Board of Elections, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. (John Minchillo/AP)
Jessica Hoffman of Columbus, Ohio, votes early at the Franklin County Board of Elections, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. (John Minchillo/AP)
This article is more than 2 years old.
COMMENTARY

We shared coffee every morning, but I knocked on his door knowing this time would be different. It was the morning after Barack Obama was elected president, and the professor I worked for in graduate school wasn’t full of hope or change. He beckoned me in without turning from the window. Overhead, a turkey vulture, common in that part of Virginia, circled looking for breakfast.

“Do you see that?” he asked, breaking the silence.

“The bird? Yeah.”

“That’s a vulture. It’s circling for us. For America.”

His back still turned, I stifled a giggle that fell somewhere between authentic and uncomfortable, mumbled an unmemorable reply and excused myself. That evening, many students attended classes at my right-leaning graduate school dressed in funeral black, without a hint of irony.

***

In 2003, a married couple told me they would move to Canada if George W. Bush was reelected. I agreed with a laugh, but to them this was neither a joke nor hyperbole. These were smart people — one a professor at a prominent research university. They heard Toronto was nice, similar to their beloved Chicago where they met in college. I said I hadn’t been, because that was easier than saying I couldn’t relate.

***

That day, the vulture probably dined on roadkill, more likely to be squirrel than bald eagle. To this day, that couple remains in the United States living in the actual Chicago, not the Canadian equivalent. And through the night (which ever was darkest for you), our flag was still there.

The system of checks and balances mitigate each candidate’s potential to affect change, whether for good or bad.

On Wednesday morning, I expect one part of America will feel that a crisis was narrowly averted. Another segment will be gazing intently out windows or looking for real estate in Canada. Each will have put too much weight on the outcome.

Every election is important, but each election is said to be the most important. With all the buildup — this campaign season started in March of 2015 — presidential elections are made out to be critical turning points for our nation. In truth, they’re far from it. Emphasizing the roles of individuals saves us from contemplating the systemic nature of the problems we face.

If your candidate wins, it will be too soon to declare mission accomplished. If your pick loses, it won’t be time to settle your affairs before the apocalypse comes.

How do I know this?

Hillary Clinton, pictured on Monday, and Donald Trump, pictured on Sunday (AP)
Hillary Clinton, pictured on Monday, and Donald Trump, pictured on Sunday (AP)

Think back to the last election you thought was pivotal where your side won. What about the last critical election your side lost. In the ensuing four to eight years, how much of the heralded progress or feared damage came to pass?

To some, Barack Obama was going to be the agent of change to restore hope in America. To others, he would be our Gorbachev, the last president before America transitioned from democracy to socialism. Objectively, he was neither — not even close. The Affordable Care Act has had successes and failures but isn’t the revolutionary program supporters hoped and opponents feared. His foreign policy improved some diplomatic relations, but remains surprisingly similar militarily — wars continue in Iraq and Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay still operates.

Neither candidate will be the silver bullet or the kill shot -- and that means neither outcome will give us license to relax or give up.

The system of checks and balances mitigate each candidate’s potential to affect change, whether for good or bad. Years of bipartisan short-termism and failure to compromise has left the problems facing the new president too large to solve or exacerbate overnight. Not to mention, the new president will start their term with 60 percent of Americans disapproving — a staggering number, and far from a mandate.

If your candidate wins Tuesday night, keep the celebration short. Same with the pity party if your candidate loses. It’s easy to exaggerate optimism and pessimism in these times of victory and defeat. Rest assured, neither outcome will be a triumph of democracy or the end of it.

At dawn on Wednesday, the star-spangled banner will yet wave. The challenges we face and our potential to fix them together will remain. Neither candidate will be the silver bullet or the kill shot — and that means neither outcome will give us license to relax or give up.

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Tim Snyder Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Tim Snyder is a freelance writer, commentator and essayist based in Boston. His work focuses on current issues in public policy and culture.

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