Though we’ve known for four years that the 2020 US election cycle would be even more fraught than the strange and painful fall of the 2016 elections, most of us still find ourselves a little disoriented these days. For some, the urgency to remove Trump from office has immobilized us. For others, it’s fortified us into action to get out the vote and to sway those who are undecided, apathetic, and reluctant.
In the final five weeks before the election of a lifetime, we asked writers to consider the undecided voter and contribute compelling arguments and ideas for making the world right. Some contributors sent us work that takes on issues with precision and gravity. Others sent us different work, perhaps an even more visceral snapshot of this alarming moment — a one-act play, an open letter, a story of exile. New writing will be published weekdays; we believe its wisdom and strength will help us all navigate the uncertainty ahead.
Not the voter who “thinks” it doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t condescend to you like that, not least because I know you’re right. It doesn’t matter, in the grand scheme, who wins this year’s election. This fallen world will not be made upright by something so orderly and quotidian as the swearing-in of a new president and a new Senate majority. The cancers have gone too long unchecked through the rotting organs of our society for such measures to make the difference now. To avoid the doom that is coming will require more than this election can provide, more than it even seeks or pretends to provide.
But the grand scheme is not the only scheme. Individual human lives are not lived from a forty thousand-foot view. They are lived at point-blank range. It is from that intimate distance that I would like you to consider the potential consequences of your inaction.
You have correctly calculated, as I have, that your life will not be appreciably changed on January 20 when someone takes the oath of office. Nor will it be changed in the months that follow, as he signs executive orders and legislation that, in the best plausible case, are unequal to the challenge they are intended to meet. To you and I, the result of this election doesn’t matter.
But it matters to someone. To a lot of someones. To the migrant parents who won’t be ripped away from their children, sometimes never to see them again, it matters. To the asylum seekers who won’t be denied the rights guaranteed to them by domestic and international law, it matters. To the people living with pre-existing conditions who won’t have the meager shred of meaningful health coverage stolen from them, it matters. To the activists and protesters who won’t be kidnapped in unmarked vans and held without charge, it matters.
The result of this election will matter, on that scale, to many people. For the larger number of those people, the difference between a President Biden and a President Trump will be an improvement. President Biden, and a democratic senate majority, will not save them from a system that was built with intent to do them harm. But that harm can and will be mitigated, and that’s not nothing.
Perhaps you live in a state where the outcome is not in doubt. But what if the margin of the result sends — to the petty demons plotting their coup and the frightened bureaucrats doing their bidding — a louder message than the result itself? Is that possibility not worth making the effort?
I’m not here to tell you it will be your fault if the president wins re-election. It won’t be. It will be the fault of an electorate burdened with an abundance of people whose intellects never knew the rigor of exercise. It will be the fault of an intentional project, pursued with enthusiasm by a reactionary death cult, that poisoned the body politic to make it blind, confused, and avaricious. It will be the fault of people who can think and feel but cannot know.
What I’m here to tell you is that it’s not really important, finally, whose fault it is, when it’s so easily within our power to take a small but meaningful action. As of today, but possibly for not much longer, no ordinary member of a society has ever wielded such awesome power over the course of human events as that which is granted by the American vote. What does voting cost us but time? Such cheap grace are we offered. I know you want a revolution. I want it too. But if the revolution never comes, if this benighted human race goes the way of all flesh in the near future, what will you and I have done to ease the pain and suffering of those who screamed for relief? Are you prepared to face November 4 not having done this small thing?
You may think you are. I hope, and ask, that you choose not to find out.
If you enjoyed this essay, please share it with an undecided voter in your life, and please consider contributing to National Bail Fund Network COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.
Jonathan Nathan is a writer and an organizer.