Let’s do a thought experiment: You’re sitting in a classroom. It’s 2116. You’ve just had your caffeinated morning Soylent and are settling in to history class. You’re about to learn about the history of the early 21st century. You’ll learn about America, that once great empire. You’ll learn about how a terrorist attack created a climate of fear so bad that it lead to two wars and the least qualified President hitherto seen. You’ll learn about the reaction of half of the nation to this climate and the election of a hope-peddling African-American with great plans. This era will be taught to you as the decade that split America in two. The decade that saw the right and the left go through a bad breakup and give each other the silent treatment for eight years. The decade that saw the cronies of one regime spend eight years blocking the reforms of the one that followed. The decade where nothing got done because people forgot how to compromise. That the gridlock was so bad that many people lost faith in the ability of government at all.
Then, you’ll be taught that there was an election where America had a choice between a megalomaniacal billionaire who promised to tear it all down and lifelong civil servant with good ideas and a private email server. The teacher will pause to explain what emails were, and will tell you that this election, one that would have been impossible ten years earlier was close. Really close. The teacher will then go on to describe the outcome of that election. What will that teacher say?
Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about being on the wrong side of history.
People in my circle (admittedly, overeducated liberals) have been posting about and linking to all kinds of statements by celebrities or otherwise about coming down on the wrong side of history today. Good natured pleas to vote and then a solemn request to vote for Hillary and “not come down on the wrong side of history”.
As much as I appreciate the sentiment, this kind of plea really gets to me. You shouldn’t vote for someone for fear of what people in a classroom 100 years from now will think. You should vote for someone to ensure the kind of life people in a classroom 10 years from now will be living. Not the immediate future, not the distant future. That middle future that humans seem so unable to visualize.
The middle future where small changes in say, education, could lead to hundreds of thousands of American kids getting the preparation they need for an increasingly difficult to understand world. The kind of future where say, our aging population will need the most late-life care in history. A future where say roads and bridges reach their sell-by date with no plans in place to refurbish them. Picture this world, and you will see how the people 90 years from then will look on the choice you make today.
Still not convinced? Fine. Look back.
Look back to any election in history where an old man shouted about how immigrants were responsible for the state of the nation. Look back and see that man talk about investing in the military while cutting taxes for corporations. See him point to the other side and say that they are weak, and that his strength alone will save the country. Hear him describe an ideal, a country of yore, that he promises he will steer the nation back to. Watch him use this ideal to trick patriots into thinking he has their interest at heart.
Do you see this man? How do you remember him? Sitting, as you do, with the luxury of hindsight. Do you like this man? What was his legacy? Was the world a better place after his election?
Do you think the people who voted for him then care about being on the wrong side of history? Probably not. But I’d bet that ten years after his election, when the country they lived in looked nothing like the one they elected him from, they had some regrets. Because they still had to live there. They had to bear the responsibility of being a participant in the movement that spoiled their nation. And when these hypothetical people looked back, I’d also bet that they were ashamed of the reason they voted that way in the first place. They did it because they were scared.
So, when you vote later today, don’t just think about how that teacher in the future will talk about today. Think about the world you’re going to have to live in ten years from now. It may not matter if, in the future, you come down on the right side of history, but it would be a real shame if you didn’t take the lessons of the history we already know.