Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Boundaries in the age of COVID: US elections

So, it is Nov 4/, 2020, the day after polls closed in the US for the presidential election, results still not quite in. Everyone I know there busy stressing out over it and still trying to avoid COVID. As individuals, because there was no national plan enacted the way there was in Canada and just about everywhere else in the entire world.

Being newly retired I have had time to fixate on the American neighbour, delve into many deep ponderings about what it means to be a Canadian only an hour's drive north of the US-Canada border (which remains closed) just over North Dakota. 

The US appears, at least superficially, to be sort of a banana republic. It has held together for a couple centuries, amazingly. It became a huge country of 330 million people, with the baling twine and chewing gum of gracious conduct lubricated by tons of money, but I suspect global warming is worrying the global financial powers that be into acting autocratically.
I seriously can't believe trumple is a lone actor - pretty sure he's a puppet for a global moneyed oligarchy. One advantage he may have is that there seems to be a custom in the US of keeping a president in power for a full two terms, 8 years, and he's only at the 4-year mark so he has only managed to half wreck the country and has only murdered about 240 thousand people so far by not implementing a decent COVID prevention plan - his destructive work is only half done. 

About the US, I remember being aghast that individual voting was such a huge affair and so complicated, elections so expensive and long-winded, that the ballots could go on for pages and pages, that voters had to fight to actually be registered and to vote.
How cumbersome, I thought.
Then I grew to appreciate that it really was an amazing innovation in the 18th century to distribute power so equitably to (at first) all white men who owned property, then later to everybody. And I appreciated that massive struggle had been involved in expansion of voting rights. Especially when I found out that black women had been held back from voting until 1965. 
Nineteen sixty-five!!

ismay slowly arose though as it dawned on me that there is nothing particularly equitable about a system that is actually not a single large ship of state but rather a flotilla of 50 ships of state all tied together, some in pretty good shape and others very rusted, leaky, still on top of the water only because of movement inertia and other ships pulling them, but acting as a drag to the entire ensemble. All of them are slowed down by the barnacles of time. 
Furthermore, some ships try to pull the entire shebang one way and others in a different direction. 
In fact, the two major parties remind me of the way two eagles grasp talons and participate in a twirling death spiral

Which brings us to the "electoral vote." 
Imagine this: we have the 50 ships of varying sizes and conditions all tied together all pulling different directions all weighed down by barnacle infestation.  Imagine all the people on each ship voting for a new leader, say, a different president. All the votes are counted, but... only the ship gets to have an actual presidential vote. The ship! Some ships more than one, some ships many; it depends on the size of the ship. So, no matter how big the population aboard, if it's a small ship, individual votes may count more heavily than if the ship is an ocean liner like California. 
This system of states' votes stems from the days of slavery when only white male property owners could vote. A "college" of "learned men." Why it still exists is beyond me. 


I grew to appreciate even more the role played by current-day media as a way all the people on board all the ships can maintain some semblance of feeling connected to each other and updated about how each others' lives are going, and how we all eavesdrop on it no matter where we non-Americans live. Yeah, it's noisy and often feels intrusive (cultural imperialism) but it does help time go by. 

States' rights in the US are a real detriment at times. The power assigned to voting individuals is completely at the mercy of whatever ship said individuals happen to be riding on. War was fought over perceived state inequities. Plus, all that ghastly slavery crap that happened from 1619 onward, and that supposedly ended with the Civil War, cultivated mental and social ruts into the fabric of the US so deeply that some aspects have not yet ceased to exist (police murders of George Floyd et al) and voting rights are still being suppressed by some of the old rust bucket state ships in the flotilla. 

Heather Cox Richardson provides context and lots of optimism. In fact I'm pretty sure the fumes of optimism are enticing enough to have been the main way the US has survived thus far given all the handicaps its citizens endure for their privilege of collectively holding ultimate power every 4 or 6 years, 4 for presidential elections and 6 for senate seats (I think). Given the fact that said individuals have been taught to eschew the very thought of being part of a "collective" of anything. 

The main problem I see with individuals holding power is that no one individual has the power to fire a terrible leader. It has to be done collectively, but to get people to act collectively they have to be convinced to maintain a completely incongruent set of ideas about how acting collectively will support their freedom as individuals somehow. Furthermore, if the terrible leader manages to be the best convincer, the resulting set of incongruent ideas becomes a cult. His followers appear to be oblivious to cognitive dissonance.  

I learned a new word recently - paralipsis. It's a rhetorical device that lets your audience know what's on your mind without having to say so directly. It permits lying, because you can always deny you actually said it. It boils down to speaking with forked tongue or out both sides of your mouth. The current terrible leader is a master of it. Which means he obfuscates and escapes like an octopus from any tiny hole. His story depends entirely on his audience, and what he wants to get from them. 
Critical thinkers find him appalling and mendacious and thoroughly misleading. His followers think he's brilliant and will fix their leaky rust-bucket ship of state. He won't. 

We still don't know who won the election, because there were so many mail-in ballots due to COVID still being counted. 


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