The future belongs to the people who show up

ON THE NIGHT OF the 2016 Presidential Election, I was in a New Orleans Airbnb with my wife and cousins. We planned on waiting until 10 — when the election would be called for Hillary, of course — and then going downstairs to get a cocktail on Bourbon Street. Instead, at 10, I found myself urging friends not to panic, to wait for Wisconsin, wait for Michigan, wait for Pennsylvania… and whoops, nope! The world’s on fire!

My wife, Steph, works in New Jersey politics, and that means you’re imagining her as some sort of Tony Soprano gumar with big hair and too much make-up. She’s more like Leslie Knope from Parks and Rec. A sweet, gregarious Italian girl from the Jersey Shore who thinks she can help people who need help. I’ve never seen her more upset than she was on election night — Donald Trump was so clearly a liar, so clearly a kleptocrat, and so casual about tossing grenades into the lives of the marginalized people of the world that she simply couldn’t conceive that so many of our loved ones would support him.

What was so galling was that he was what everyone was saying was wrong with politics. I’ve seen Steph get into it with strangers at bars — She tells them what she does for a living, and they say, “Sorry sweetheart, you’re all corrupt,” and she tears them a new asshole, because they have no fucking idea what they’re talking about. I’ve lived in DC, I’ve worked two blocks from the White House, and I’ve married a public servant, and it even took me a few years to reject the common narrative that American politics are hopelessly broken.

I reject it now because I go out for drinks with the poorly-paid peons that keep America afloat. I’m friends with Congressional staffers, non-profit workers, union employees, even dreaded lobbyists, and in them, I don’t see conniving puppet-masters like Frank and Claire Underwood from House of Cards. What I see — when they’re at their best — is Sam Seaborn and C.J. Cregg from The West Wing. At their worst, they’re like the petty buffoons of Veep, but they’re never evil.

But after the election, it was hard to argue with the House of Cardsinterpretation of American politics. “They can’t make that stuff up!” one family member said of House of Cards. Sure, they can make up an intergalactic robo-war in Battlestar Galactica, or a time-traveling alien who lives in a police box in Doctor Who, but they can’t make up a Senator pushing a girl in front of a train.

As I talked to more and more of my non-political friends and family members, I realized how far we as a country have become divorced from the reality of our democracy. A staggering amount of people believe 9/11 was an inside job — that George W. Bush was competent enough to conduct the greatest cover-up in history, but couldn’t manage to find false-flag terrorists that were from the country he wanted to invade or plant a few WMDs. Even more of us think that it’s impossible to be an elected official without being patently corrupt, which is demonstrably wrong. And nearly everyone votes based on personality, not on policy.

After the election, I spent most of my time on Facebook, trying to help organize and console friends who had just seen a brighter future melt away before their eyes. I am not part of the “everything’s okay” crowd, because it’s not, but I do think there’s more reason for hope than we maybe imagine.

Probably the most vocal voice on my Facebook feed was Jesse Steele. I’ve known Jesse since the first day of second grade, and we lived together a few years after college, back when we were broke and drunk most of the time. The two of us eventually went off to grad school — he studied public administration, I studied human rights — and he now works as a manager of a non-profit. I’m a writer and occasionally a journalist.

After the election, we decided that our Facebook posts could only get out to so many people, so we decided to start a website. We’re calling it Enough to be Dangerous (with a stylized 2, for reasons that have nothing to do what was available on GoDaddy), and we’re focusing on how we, the mothafucking people, can be effective in our democracy.

Because, look: things seem bad. But we still have a nominally democratic system. It’s a system that favors the people who show up. And for years, the main people showing up have been businesses. This isn’t because they’re evil, it’s because they have very clear bottom lines, and because they can see — in terms of dollars and cents — how different policies are affecting their bottom lines.

It’s a lot harder to quantify our conception of “the good life” than it is to look at numbers on a balance sheet. So we convinced ourselves that what was good for business is good for us. And it sometimes is. But it often isn’t.

So the future will start bending back in our direction if we start paying more attention to how we’re planning for it. That’s it — that’s all. There’s no reason that Donald Trump needs to mean the end of America or the end of the world.

What we’re going to try and do with this blog is to explain how we can be good, involved, effective global citizens. As the stoic slave philosopher Epictetus said 1900 years ago, “Only the educated are free.” As Jesse said to me on Gchat a half an hour ago, “In a pluralist democracy, whoever is the most organized wins.”

Let’s get educated and organized. We can still win this. This blog will hopefully teach you just enough to be dangerous.

Featured photo by Paul Sableman