Can we still be friends

What happens after the Presidential elections in the United States in November has been on my mind a lot lately. The ramifications for my country are significant, and of the seven elections I’ve participated in the past (missing the eighth because I turned 18 two weeks after the election), I don’t remember one having such a degree of emotional commitment as this election. No, not even the elections during the Vietnam War.

This year we’re seeing two hundred years of political flashpoints come together into one huge, and disturbingly virulent fireball: race, religion, state rights versus federal; US as empire and US as peacekeeper terrorism, expanionism, libertarian versus socialistic economics, and the role of the federal government; abortion, gay marriage, immigration, health care, creationism versus evolution, and the environment and progress.

It’s almost like a bad poem, and since I missed the Blogger poem day yesterday:

Race, religion, fed versus state
who do we appreciate?

US as empire and peacekeeper, too
boils down to US rules.

Terrorism and expansionism
put the bad guys into prison.

Libertarian or social, true.
I got mine, and so do you.

Abortion or gay,
who holds sway?

Give us your money,
you can keep your poor.

It’s okay to die,
just don’t get sick.

Can’t stuff a tree into a gas tank
but it’s hard to breath petroleum.

God created me, you stupid ape.

But more than just the impact this election will have on this country and the world,
I wonder about the impact on our online relationships with each other. To say that nothing will change after this election in regards to our interactions with others we’ve come to know online is foolishly optimistic. Of course things will change, but how they’ll change, I don’t know.

I’m lucky in that over half the people I’ve come to know online are not from this country. I’ve been able to meet people from South Africa and Canada; Austrlia, New Zealand, and the UK; Germany, France, Italy, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Iraq, China, and other countries known and not. It’s been a rich experience, but its also been painful at times . Never before have I been able to borrow so many other’s eyes to see my own country, and the sight has not always been pretty or pleasant.

There are not a lot of countries who are very happy with the United States now, but much of the anger has been directed at the President and his staff. After all, Bush did not win the popular vote, so we can’t necessarily be held accountable for his actions. But what happens if Bush gets re-elected? At that time Bush’s actions will be seen as following the mandate of the people of this country, and how is that going to alter other country’s views of each of us?

If Bush is re-elected, can we still be friends?

Even when I share much of the same views as those who would condemn our actions, I have found myself experiencing tension, more than once, with someone I consider friend, primarily because of condemnation of our actions has been balanced, precariously, against condemnation of the nation as a whole. And good or bad, I am part of this nation.

I’ve known Chris, otherwise known as Stavros of Emptybottle almost longer than anyone else, but when he says in my comments, “I hate America”, it is difficult for me to accept this with any form of objectivity. What “America”, I want to say. I am part of America.

I have long respected Mike Golby’s satirical eloquence and his passion, and he has become an important part of my life, but even so earlier in April I found myself pushing back at him, in anger:

What do you want, Mike?

You don’t want Bush. You don’t want Kerry. You don’t like Americans, because we fuck up constantly.

Do you want us to just detonate all of out atomic bombs over our own country and wipe us off the face of the world? Will that then end all evil, since we are the root of?

I’ve read Mike’s condemnation of the Bush administration and our actions for months and never had anything but agreement. So why did I get angry this time? I think it’s because I see that precarious balance against America, the government and America, the people. Even when Mike says this is bullshit, he also writes:

Until U.S. citizens start telling the U.S. administration what they think of it, the world and I can only believe they condone what is happening in Iraq and elsewhere.

Yet I don’t want Chris or Mike to stop what they are saying because I do agree with their anger; I know, intellectually, neither means me when they make their statements. But what will happen between us if Bush were re-elected? Will that anger grow? If so, will the tension grow, too?

Even within the country, Bush being re-elected is going to create an enormous amount of tension. If I seem to be angry at Mike for demanding that we be held accountable for our actions, imagine the contradiction when I turn around and get angry at other of my fellow citizens for just this same reason.

I should maintain an intellectual detachment from the political process, but I cannot. Every time I hear the President invoke religion as his platform, I will find myself pushing back at the religious, yes even those who are tolerant. Every time I hear the President paint yet another country as ‘evil’, I lash out at even the most reasonable in his support. Every time I see a wilderness area opened up for oil exploration, or more foul substances released into the air or water, I turn my frustrated, heart broken, and desperate eyes of rage on the nearest moderate Republican, and I let loose with both barrels.

“Damn you! Look what you’ve done!”

You might think that in those circles where only the like-minded frequent, such as among the warbloggers, the results of the election won’t be an impact on the relationships because the people agree. If Bush doesn’t win, they will support each other. If Bush does win, they will still support each other.

However, it doesn’t take much to see that among the warbloggers, for the most part, the only thing they do agree on is Bush’s aggressive military stance. Once the election is over, Bush winning or not, what will then form the cohesive elements in their lives? At that point, I see many reaching a point of burn out and either they will quit or they will change. No one can talk about war every day, day in day out, no matter how much they relish it now. But if the warbloggers don’t have war–what will they have?

What if Bush does not win, like I and so many others hope? One can say if getting Bush re-elected is the cohesive force behind those who support “the war”, whatever “the war” is, making sure Bush isn’t elected is just as much a cohesive force for others.

Look around you. Can you see all of us engaging in the same level of rhetoric for the next four years? But do we then write about poetry and technology and bookbinding and hiking and ignore the hundreds that were just blown up in Baghdad? I can, and I will, and so will you–but sometimes the words seem stretched thin, like new skin over an open wound.

Maybe they are. New skin signifies healing.

Regardless of the election results, I think too many things have been in motion for us to ever pull out without enormous damage, no matter what course we take. I’d like to think that we can mend our differences with other countries, and find a solution to Iraq and the Middle East, and save the environment, and feed the hungry and care for the sick, but unlike so many other pundits, I don’t know what the solutions are.

(Speaking of pundits, how many sincere essays written with an absolute confidence that the weblogger knows the truth can we read before our heads implode? Including our own essays (as I raise my hand signifying my own guilt)? When I see somebody write with gentle humility or compassion or humor now, I want to cry. I want to drink in the words like they are water in the desert. I’ll even partake of delicious arrogance, if it’s done in service of poking holes in our self-satisfied bubbles.)

Perhaps I am too sensitive, or lacking in the objectivity or the necessary degree of intellectualism that allows us to have our dissenting dialogs without blowing apart in fire and bits of burnt ego. After the election, we will continue as we are, with no difference, and I am seeing non-existent specters. At this point, you’re all shaking your heads with pity for me, all the while in the back of your mind is a single thought: let’s form a pool to see when she’ll crack.

Maybe I’m just experiencing the frustration of feeling close to people who I haven’t met physically, and most likely never will, and I miss that direct contact. I can’t hug Chris or Mike to reaffirm that we are friends despite our countries and our differences, and this makes it worse. I must also admit, too, in quiet moments, that even if we were to have the chance, we might still not meet because what we share is woven of silver threads that are beautiful as long we don’t look directly at them.

And maybe it’s nothing more than my mood reflecting this gray day and the storm last night. It’s odd, but as I lay there in the dark and watched the lightning through the window and listened to the crack of thunder, I thought about the events in the last few weeks, and how the brightest moment in them was a silly little meme known as “23rd page, fifth sentence”.

It is now 185 days until November 2nd, 2004

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