There was a man, probably still is, who stood in front of Sanford Stadium at University of Georgia home games and condemned the attendees to hell for their drunkenness and homosexuality. I haven’t been to Athens for football in awhile, but I still see the man from time to time. He was at the last Braves game I went to and at a couple of the music festivals I played at this past summer. He was shorter then, held a sign with a slightly different slogan, but his face had the same resolute expression of a man performing his duty. Everywhere that I have seen him the crowd parts like water around a stone in the middle of a creek bed. That much is always the same. He is more of a landmark than a person, more of an idea than a human being.
In that at least, he is not alone. It seems that this year has been especially full of two-dimensional people, caricatures of the rest of us who, instead of living equally-nuanced lives like our own, are defined almost entirely by political opinion. One glance at any of our online feeds is enough to convince us that we are surrounded by madness and that we alone are left wondering why it seems everyone else is trying to plunge our country into chaos. Can we really be blamed for assuming the worst? We have all seen the same circus and walked the same tightrope, the same family gatherings where a single dissenting opinion, off-color joke or video is enough to fill the room with silence or worse, words that we cannot take back. At times, it feels like we are little more than our hashtags and comment threads, glib sound bytes and 140-character mic drops, religious and racial demographics. For many of us, it is more than a feeling. Entire groups of people have been reduced to talking points on both sides, mere leverage to assuage the mob.
When I think of all that we’ve seen through this past campaign, I see my soapbox man with his hateful signs and sad eyes standing in front of the stadium. For as much as I would like to distance myself from his methods and his message, I am all too familiar with his mindset. I am just as quick to condense the voices around me and just as likely to commit the same treason against people I do not know or understand. Ideas and feelings, clear or convoluted, are still far simpler to support and understand than people. I am addicted to the drug of certainty and immune to the balm of compassion. Far from loathing the mob, I prefer its safety and definition because it asks so little of me. It’s easier to stand #withher or to #makeamericagreatagain and blame the “other” for our collective failures than it is to work to understand the real subtleties, the struggles of life in this country - the suffering of the world that requires our full attention. Lending my voice to a presidential campaign requires a moment of my time, one vote every four years and that is not enough. I’m afraid that what the world might need is more than I am willing to give.
This is where 2016 has brought me and I do not think I am alone. This is where my soapbox man and fellow doomsday prophet found me this summer, so I wrote a song about him. I didn’t know what else to do, but I want to be better. Regardless of who sits in the White House, there are still people quietly working to make the world around them better and that is anything but partisan. We all have the freedom to join them. The gentle, elderly women running the polls in my precinct tonight are proof enough of that fact. This world is full of people reduced to ideas, winners and losers, rich and poor, Republican and Democrat, but we do not have to be defined by our fears or divisions. While they are real and should not be ignored, our separations do not change the reality of the divine spark in the people that surround us. They do not change the opportunity we have to find strength in our differences, to allow the things we hold most deeply to be shaped and changed by the beliefs of others. America has never been and will never be a monolith, but rather a tapestry woven from many different threads, our struggles, mistakes, and triumphs. Thankfully, that truth is not something to be controlled or manipulated and it does not belong to a particular group or campaign. True righteousness, purity of heart and intent are not meant to be possessed alone, but to be pursued together.