The mood of the country is ugly.
Political divisions more polarized than ever, neighbor against neighbor, yard sign against yard sign. Threats of violence, of bitter exclusion, family versus family, the nation is burning with desire for a revolution — tear it down! Drain the swamp! Throw the scoundrels out! Make ‘em pay! Lock ‘em up! Keep ‘em out!
Oh for heaven’s sake. Settle down.
It's an election year, in one of the most competitive states in the Union, in one of the most competitive election years in American politics in the new century.
A recent Florida Southern College poll revealed a dead heat in the governor’s race. Two Senate candidates throttling one another for marginal advantage in one of the hottest contests in the U.S. The “generic congressional ballot” — a survey of preference by party alone — uncovered a result well within the margin of error (less than 1 percentage point divides the parties).
"We could not be more divided" is one of the silliest statements I’ve read, and it seems I’m reading it daily.
"This is an incredibly competitive, high-interest, high participation election year" is the more accurate read of this. Voters and potential voters are hugely invested. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone favors one solution or policy over another.
It is not the people who "divide." It is our "first-past-the-post," two-party system that forces a division into what is increasingly a false dichotomy. And we love it.
The NFL, through knee-taking, lack of parity, too much hype, too much money and a bloated, self-gratifying notion of "purpose" is no longer the most popular sport in the US — politics is.
Whatever can be said against the current shifts in the American polity, and about the tweets, media-flaming, trash-talk and nonsense that goes with it, Americans are paying more attention to their own political world than they have for several generations.
We are in an economy that is super-charged for success. More money is leaking down than ever before; the job rate is sky-high. No one is going to "revolt" against anything.
If one of the purposes of good republican government is to contain and channel conflict, then this is one of the safest, most durable systems invented.
There are issues, no doubt, and this is not to minimize their importance. Women in this country are clearly fed right to the top with the head-patting drivel they are expected to accept in the face of horrendous behavior by some men; climate change is real and developing into a crisis — we could have beaches at Sebring and Gainesville; ecological concerns for all Floridians, not linked to climate change — or even humans — are with us; the coasts are under a disgusting slime of algae, or dead fish from the red tide, or both, driving the tourists away and making beachfront living a misery; farmers are in continual crisis; and our public education system is in such disarray that we can’t seem to hire bus drivers, much less decent new teachers.
Usually this kind of litany is followed with "and no-one cares!" But that’s wrong, dead wrong this time around.
People do care, and are waving signs, populating phone banks, knocking on doors, and registering in huge numbers to show exactly how much they care.
Left and right, citizens are organizing. Paying attention, looking for change, rooting out old forms and trying new ones.
Why is it so upsetting?
Probably because this is not “politics as usual” on either side of the partisan divide.
Florida is a flaming burn-barrel of old ideas, stable politics (or what passes for it here) and the same-old-incumbent expectations. The season started with some of the wildest primaries we’ve seen, even for Florida: people who "do not vote in primaries" voted in primaries. People who “do not vote at all” voted; people who "never register" were registered.
And the energy is equal. Both parties set records, both parties scored major upsets against the standard politics of the day. More of my students are gainfully employed as canvassers than are employed in the food industry.
Even in this culture, it's hard to blame a storm on the Democrats or Republicans, but I’d imagine that’s next. Politics is taking over. People are debating and persuading, throwing ideas and candidate names around, calling for loyalty or desertion. Yard signs, phone calls, arguments at work — why aren’t we celebrating?
We’re Americans. We should enjoy every minute of it. Vote.
R. Bruce Anderson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Dr. Sarah D. and L. Kirk McKay Jr. Endowed Chair in American History, Government, and Civics at Florida Southern College in Lakeland.