By Ben Olson
The morning after the election, I took a walk. The dark computer screen across the room beckoned me to waggle the mouse and wake it while I tied my shoes, but I avoided the temptation. Sleep still clung to my eyes from the post-midnight refreshing of browser pages to see who ultimately prevailed in this important primary, but that could wait. There was some self-healing that needed to be done.
I grabbed the inches-thick stack of campaign flyers and pamphlets that had clogged my mailbox over the past few weeks and deposited them all into the recycling bin with a satisfying whump. I lamented the fact that so many trees had to be sacrificed to produce such garbage, but I was pleased that the election was over — for now.
Some neighbors were out tending to their garden, quietly weeding before the rain began to fall. With clouds building over the mountains, I quickened my pace. I had forgotten my rain jacket, hoping I could finish the walk and be safely behind my desk downtown before the weather turned.
A friend tooted their horn as they drove by in their work truck. A woman passed on the sidewalk with a dog wearing a tiny raincoat. Even the dogs had better sense than me in this weather.
There’s a certain feeling I get around midday every Thursday, immediately after I finish delivering the paper. Those first moments of freedom after the weekly grind to the finish on deadline night are some of the best I have all week. It’s the furthest away I ever get until the next deadline, and I try to use the time to focus on activities that bring me joy. I turn off the phone and leave the computer dark as long as I can on these days, knowing there’s probably a guy out there writing to me that I dangled a participle or filling my voicemail with long, cryptic messages about nuclear war or emailing that I am a cancer to this community because I share opinions that represent people whose voices are often drowned out by the righteously loud.
I use this time to play a game of golf, go for hikes in the woods, go snowboarding or sometimes just sit in a daze on my couch, enjoying the time as it silently passes.
I feel the same sense of relief after every election, knowing that the morning after is the furthest we will be from the next one. I feel relief because politics brings out the worst in people, and going through an election cycle often leaves trauma inside at how low people will stoop to attain power.
The relief I feel doesn’t come because I’m pleased with the outcome. After enduring about a dozen elections in North Idaho, I’ve learned to accept the results with the phrase, “Well, it could’ve been much worse.” Because it certainly could have. No matter which way you lean politically or which candidate you were pulling for, nobody ever comes away feeling like everything worked out 100%.
That’s politics. It’s a messy business of determining which way the checks and balances will swing to ensure this delicate form of democracy we practice in the U.S. remains strong, despite so many attacks on it in recent years by those who cannot gracefully accept defeat.
A few drops of rain began to wet the sidewalk, reminding me to turn back for home before it was too late. I thought of the people who had shown their true character during the latest election. Mark Sauter ran an honorable campaign in which he didn’t sling mud and was rewarded with a win. That was his character. Scott Herndon ran a despicable campaign filled with fear-mongering propaganda and mean-spirited personal attacks on his opponent, and was also rewarded with a win. In his lust for power he tarnished the name of a dedicated public servant and a good man. That was his character.
Back in the day, we were always taught that bullies never prospered. Bullies were just cruel, cowardly figures who took advantage of those who were more vulnerable for their own glory. Nowadays, I’m not so sure. In the blood sport that is politics, bullies tend to come out ahead because they believe their cause is righteous enough to trample anyone who gets in their way and voters reward this behavior with votes. It’s disgusting and completely antithetical to this thing we call community, but they still prosper. I shudder to think of what young people have learned from politics lately.
As I approached home, the rain picked up in earnest. It turned from a sprinkling to a drumming, and finally a deluge as I ran inside mopping my forehead dry.
“Let it fall,” I said to no one.
Let it fall and cleanse us of this ugly time we’ve all endured. Let it wash away the inhumanity, the anger and the outrage. Maybe — just maybe — “the better angels of our nature” will find their voices again in this era of powerlessness and incivility.
May we all get soaked with the realization that we are better than this.
We have always been better than this, but the politics of grievance and spite have succeeded by making us forget that. It’s well past time we remembered.
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