On October 28th, a little more than a week before our midterm elections, an American soldier in Afghanistan, Major Brent Taylor, posted his thoughts on Facebook about the coming election.
He didn’t complain about the dreary and chaotic incoherence of so many campaigns – or to the billion dollars spent to support them. No, Major Taylor wrote that he hoped “everyone back home exercises their precious right to vote.” And in ”astounding numbers”, we did just that.
Elections in gray November have all sorts of inconveniences – long lines, rain, cold, you name it – and this day was typical. Yet an estimated one hundred and thirteen million Americans ignored them all to vote.
I’d say it’s the most extraordinary expression of democracy, rule of the people, on the planet – and envy of many – as inside the polling place we take our ballots to makeshift booths – “sacred space” – with no more than a flimsy cloth for privacy and a stubby pencil to indicate our choices.
Democracy’s enemies around the world, like state sponsored hackers in Russia and elsewhere, have attempted to make us doubt our democracy by sowing disinformation – lies – and corrupting voter lists. I like to think they’re pulling their hair out now. Maybe they’ll think twice about messing with our democracy in the future – because while there are many elements in a democracy, the vote is the spine of a resilient one.
Two hundred years ago, French writer Alexis de Tocqueville traveled to and studied a young America. He wrote in Chapter IX of his book Democracy in America that “the people elect their representatives directly ... The people therefore are the real directing power.”
And I’d say that hasn’t changed.
Major Taylor was killed in Afghanistan. And the day his body arrived home, his wife Jennie – with the couple’s seven children at her side – commented that it was “fitting” that her husband come home to America in a flag draped coffin on Election Day.
All of which brings Russia back to mind – and a dissident Russian woman writing from her gulag prison some years ago that gray is the color of hope – an image that sits well with November elections in America, I think.