Everywhere you go today, you’re going to find them — shiny happy people. They are likely to be a bit red-eyed from staying up late to watch the last of the election coverage, and sleep-deprived perhaps, but buoyed up with a kind of optimism bordering on effervescence. You know who they (you?) are.
They are shiny and happy because last night, Americans voted loudly and clearly for an agenda that declared itself to be all about hope and change.
Hope and change. What’s not to like about that, particularly if you believe the last eight years to have been about fear and stagnation?
But I want to put all politics aside – no, seriously– and talk about what I saw last night.
Many of the crowds caught on camera seemed overwhelmed by their emotions, caught up in a kind of fervor and optimism that, quite frankly, I don’t remember ever seeing in our public discourse before. It’s hard to imagine that, should the outcome have been reversed, we would have seen crowds swooning in quite the same way. There would have been much flag-waving and whooping, to be sure, but my hunch is that much of it would have seemed rehearsed, jingoistic even.
The crowds in Grant Park and elsewhere were energized by optimism, a collective hope in something better that was represented by their candidate. In many cases, it brought them – quite literally – to tears.
In the camp of the vanquished, I can’t say that I ever saw such optimism, or at least it didn’t bubble up through the rhetorical detritus of the campaign process. What I sensed was what Steve Earle wrote about in a completely different context quite a few years ago. They seemed to be “getting in gear for four more years of things not getting worse.” That’s hardly optimism. It’s also hardly inaccurate.
I don’t pretend to know much about politics, and what I do know is colored by a pretty deep-seated cynicism about the process, its products, and its byproducts. That cynicism comes, in part, from my trade. I create and manage messages for mass audiences, and depend on my ability to use those messages to build belief and spur action. That’s what communications professionals do, and there is perhaps no higher expression of this ability than the modern political campaign.
But, sadly, the ability to perform in that role also means that you are aware that there are sometimes vast gaps between the rhetoric and the reality, between what you profess and what you practice, between what is promised and what is possible.
I’m not suggesting that’s the case here. In fact, I want very much to believe that it is not. I want very much to believe that this surge of optimism will push us all forward and help us resolve some very real cultural and social differences.
I want very much to be shiny and happy, too.