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election anxiety countdown

51 Days: This Is What You Did

Is it holding you down?
This great weigh I miss, flattening
And it’s breaking you up
All your frequencies shattered in…

This is what you get
This is what you did
This is what they want
Why are you still here?
This is what they said

This Is What You Did, This Is The Kit

One of the most memorable concerts I made it to in the year (or two) before everything shut down was seeing British singer-songwriter Kate Stables’ band This Is The Kit at DC9, a small stage just a few doors down from my place. I knew nothing of them before a friend recommended the show on Facebook. Of course, DC9 can’t host shows now, and Kate and her band can’t cross the Atlantic to support their new album. But at least there is a new album.

I heard the first single weeks ago on The Current, streaming radio from my home state of Minnesota. This Is What You Did has much of the character and cryptic poetry I love of their earlier albums. I’m looking forward to hearing the rest.

On Sundays, I’ve been posting one simple thing to do to help end Trump. So, why all this love for a British singer-songwriter today? I heard _This Is What You Did _again today and could not help associating it with the final lines of Kamala Harris’ speech at the Democratic convention:

…our children and our grandchildren will look in our eyes and they’re going to ask us, “Where were you when the stakes were so high?” They will ask us, “What was it like?” And we will tell them. We will tell them not just how we felt. We will tell them what we did.

— Kamala Harris

“This is what you did,” is what I imagine saying to a Trump voter as I stand next to them and point at the ruins all around us. The beauty of Stables’ lyrics is that “what you did” could as easily be making a mess of a relationship as making a mess of the planet. And the same goes for the question posed in the chorus. “Why are you still here?” could be asked of a cheating lover or the President.

But I also hear, “this is what you did” in the voice of the grandchild of the future from Harris’ speech. At some point, they will know what we did in 2020, whether we tell them or not.

I believe we will end Trump in November and be able to “tell them what we did” in the hopeful sense Harris’ meant. But the flip side of Harris speech, the pessimistic implication we are meant to be motivated to avoid, is that if we don’t end Trump in 50 days time, we will be standing next to that grandchild at some point. We’ll be looking out on the ruins all around us as they say, “this is what you did.”

Today’s Sunday action: Get out a pen and paper and make a plan for what you’ll do between now and election day: how you’ll vote, what you’ll do to help end Trump, what you’ll do that you’ll be proud to tell grandchildren. Check out the previous Sundays for ideas. Studies show you are far more likely to follow through with something if you make a plan, if you write it down, and if you tell someone else about your plan. So do all three. You can tell me if you don’t have someone else to tell (erik@erikmoe.com). Maybe write it in the form of a letter to your grandchild. Tell them what you did.

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election anxiety countdown

72 Days: Watch the Speeches

Sunday is the day I offer some small thing that you can do to end Trump. Past Sundays have included: Register to Vote, Learn Anti-Racism, and Adopt a State.

This week I’m recommending you take the time to hear the Democrats make the case in their own words. I have struggled this week to hold back my criticism and anxieties about the candidates. I’ve discussed the pitfalls of demanding perfection from candidates. But there is no doubt in my mind that Trump must not win in November.

It is better for you to hear Joe Biden and Kamala Harris make the case themselves, to see what resonates for you, to find your own reason and motivation for supporting them these next 71 days.

The speeches of Biden and Harris were inspiring to me. Above all, because they showed humility, competence, and empathy. Three things Trump and his government have continually failed to demonstrate. Speeches like this are necessarily broad and light on specifics, but broad strokes can convey a lot.

“We will choose hope over fear, facts over fiction, fairness over privilege….”

and

“That’s the job of a president. To represent all of us, not just our base or our party. This is not a partisan moment. This must be an American moment. It’s a moment that calls for hope and light and love. Hope for our futures, light to see our way forward, and love for one another.”

—Joe Biden, acceptance speech for Democratic nomination, July 20, 2020

Count the phrases in the short quotes above that you can’t imagine Trump saying and let me know when you run out of fingers.

Watch the speeches:

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election anxiety countdown

74 Days: Opposition

I feel two opposing instincts when I write many of these posts. Especially those that are closer to the news of the 2020 campaign. One instinct is idealistic and the other is practical.

The idealistic instinct is the strongest on days when I’ve spent more time with friends and family (phone, Zoom, socially distanced walks, etc.). Real-world connections remind me of why policy and culture matter. Convictions shared with friends are a reminder that I don’t stand alone. Hearing personal stories from friends with children out of school, Coronavirus infections, unemployment, rent bills overdue, and stories of neighbors in crisis make the need for strong public resources we can trust more urgent. I become more critical of both moderation and the go-it-alone, “pox on both their houses” mentality. My idealist instinct would have me point out the flaws in the positions and actions of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Explore the ways that they are less than perfect, insufficient. I begin to resist celebrating them because their proposals and histories aren’t those of the mythical perfect progressive/ socialist/ environmentalist candidate.

The practical instinct kicks in when I spend time on social media. There is so much noise already: voices sharing memes on the election and the pandemic without researching their veracity or considering their potential harm; contrarians cherry-picking stories that endorse doing whatever path they’d already decided on; rage over the latest incomplete fragment of news. In this environment, the controlled and careful writing of friends and former colleagues in the thick of campaign work has an obvious logic. Now is not the time for idealistic dreaming, these voices might say. Now is the time to bring the campaign across the finish line. Don’t confuse people with nuance and second guessing. Send a simple message that Biden and Harris need every vote.

This tension between the ideal and the practical drove me to spend week two of this series exploring different writing styles from the truthful to the untruthful. And I concluded that we need both the practical and ideal, both the truthful and the artfully truthful.

Friends I spend time with are far more likely to read these ramblings than anyone else. It is important to me that I am true to our friendships, true to myself, true to the idealist. It is always the time for idealistic dreaming, I might reply to the practical campaigner.

Besides, who are these mythical undecided middle-of-the-road Wisconsin voters? If you are one and are reading this, how did you come to be undecided? How did it happen that a 100-part election anxiety memoir became your tie-breaking influence? What more can I say get you out to vote for Biden and Harris over the next 73 days?

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election anxiety countdown

83 Days: Expertise

There is no certification board that gives a writer permission to write about electoral politics, anxiety, or life during a pandemic. Unlike with doctors, lawyers, or hair stylists, there is no system to keep people who are bad or dangerous writers from practicing.

For a long time, I didn’t write much because I didn’t think I was an expert. I hadn’t read all the books. I hadn’t gone to the right schools. But there are plenty of writers who write as though they are an expert on something that they only heard about yesterday. Some seem to have never read a book or gone to school, and yet they write and are read.

When I heard yesterday that Joe Biden had picked Kamala Harris as his running mate, I felt like I should write about it. That’s what everyone in my Facebook feed was doing. Surely, that’s what today’s post in my election countdown should be about. But I’m not an expert on Kamala Harris. I have nothing interesting to say about Kamala Harris. Summarizing and endorsing or contradicting what others who are also not experts on Kamala Harris are saying on Facebook is not interesting to me.

And that is the one thing I am confident I am an expert in: what is interesting to me. Every writer can stake claim to that expertise.

In 2008, I was in the back row of seats on a plane from Denver to Minneapolis. Seated all around me were journalists — many of them writers, I presume — who were flying from the Democratic convention to the Republican convention. As soon as the wheels hit the tarmac at MSP, blackberries powered up and laptops opened to the Drudge Report. The cabin filled with chatter: Alaska Governor? McCain’s made his pick. Picked a woman. Sarah Palin. She’s the Governor of Alaska.

By the time I picked up my rental car, drove across town to my parents’ house, had a cup of coffee with them and opened my computer, everyone online seemed to be an expert on Sarah Palin and what the choice said about John McCain’s campaign. Reporters who covered Alaska government — the actual experts — were few, and suddenly in high demand.

Better to be the Alaska statehouse correspondent. The expert in something obscure, something you’re (hopefully) genuinely interested in, invested in, passionate about. Let others be the writers scrambling to come up with something to say that sounds like expertise.