“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Martin Luther King’s distillation of abolitionist Theodore Parker’s sermon is one of his most famous quotations. It resonates with us because we assume the universe is moral and think we have evidence: The images of Birmingham’s police dogs and fire hoses flooded our TV screens, we rose up, and Congress passed the Civil Rights Act; Alabama troopers beat peaceful marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, President Johnson declared “We shall overcome,” and Congress passed the Voting Rights Act.
Here’s another theory: The universe has no morality, it operates on energy. As specks of matter, we too operate on energy, and we invent our morality based on sermons and experience – thus our particulars of morality vary. In this election, Donald Trump was aligned with the energy of the nation, albeit benefitting from an Electoral College that he once called “a disaster for a democracy.”
Trump’s success is evidence for transformational teachings (Werner Erhard, Tony Robbins, Abraham-Hicks): He was singularly focused on the prize, and he let nothing get in the way. When Hillary Clinton or a debate moderator recited his words recorded in videos, he denied them. No space for shame, he maintained the goal.
Studying his face during the first presidential debate, I thought: his words are unimportant, his anger resonates among his supporters. Their energies are aligned. Trump used the wrong word in saying Clinton lacked stamina, but he had the idea: her energy was no match for his, as seen in their rallies. The general, like the primaries, was about him.
We’ve seen this. After the 2008 election of the coolest president ever, we felt awesome to have chosen an African-American. But within months opponents used their outrage to create the tea party and sweep Congress in the midterms, while the president’s supporters stayed home. They roused themselves for him in 2012, and then in 2014 the country experienced historically low turnout. Turnout estimates for 2016 are down again. It’s not morality, it’s energy.
Knocking on doors on election day, I met an Afghan-American, here for 22 years. His entire household (with three grown daughters) had voted Hillary. But he said, assuming her victory, “Nothing will change, and I want change.” After chatting about the nature of presidential power, my friend asserted, “America is blessed by God,” adding, “Everything will be okay.”
Well, that too is a belief. But what if God (assuming He exists) has no investment in a particular outcome? He set up the game and gave us free will to play it as we choose. Our land, like others, is blessed with natural resources, which we have well exploited. But we are entitled to nothing. Each of us has made an infinitesimal contribution to a country that was bequeathed to us, and we have the collective power to build on it or to blow it away. My friend, being from Afghanistan, knows all about that.
Our divided country has had frequent reversals of power over more than two decades. Again we have handed full control to the Republican Party. As in 2000, the presidential “winner” received fewer votes than the “loser.” For 10 years we’ve had wave elections, whipsawing the government about what we want. Presidential candidates pledge to sign orders undoing those of their predecessors and appoint judges to reverse precedents. How fickle of us!
But next year Congress will remain about the same. Trump transition teams feature the same interests that presided under George W. Bush – but with less public-office expertise. And the Supreme Court, whose vacancy Senate Republicans will have held open for a year, will retain the same conservative majority that’s held since the 1980s.
Despite the cries for “change,” particularly from the Rust Belt, we got the same ossified politics we’ve experienced since the fortunes of the working class began shrinking 40 years ago. These seesaw results are likely to continue because our dysfunctional process remains. One may argue for removing some of our checks and balances. I suggest a different tack: Abandon our situational ethics and make every vote count, so that results are not determined by who stays home. How do we do that?
- Abolish the Electoral College, a relic dreamed up to enroll the 13 states in a federal government. A Wyoming vote has three times the value of a California vote (the ratio of the state’s eligible voters to its Electoral College representation). “Swing state” would be a dead concept.
- Adopt mandatory voting. All citizens must check in at the polls, though they can still decline to cast a ballot. All the litigation around voter ID would go away because self-interested office-holders wouldn’t be able to suppress the vote. In Australia the system has pushed candidates toward the ideological middle, because the impetus is no longer to energize the base but to go where the votes are.
- Reduce gerrymandering. Two methods: create non-partisan citizens commissions to draw congressional district lines (Arizona’s survived a Supreme Court challenge in 2015, after its legislature sued because it didn’t like the result); and/or adopt proportional representation, in which an area within a state, or a whole state, is represented by multiple members of the House of Representatives (apply the same concept to state legislatures).
- Reapportion the U.S. Senate to population, just as state senates were required to do under a series of one person/one vote Supreme Court decisions in the 1960s. Vermont residents have 40 times the Senate representation as do Texans.
How to make it happen? Get energized.