Home Comforts with Real Consequences

In an election cycle filled with vitriol and two candidates so easily defined an illiterate baby could have established a preference, it’s no wonder people wanted to avoid the polls.

If there were ever a year to vote early, it was 2016.

71,000 Hoosiers took advantage of the luxury afforded to voters in only 33 states. That’s up from the record breaking early turnout in 2008 of 49,000, a 31 percent increase.

As I walked into my one available voting precinct in a small Central Indiana town, though, the vibe was different. Outside stood a woman with a bright red coat emblazoned with the town’s name, “Rossville”. Every prospective voter that walked up to the fire station turned voting precinct was greeted with a warm smile and an invitation to take refuge from the morning drizzle in the station’s garage. There was a reassuring quaintness about the affair that provided balance to the feelings of impending doom peddled by the histrionic political machine over the last year and a half.

The line averaged 30 minutes to an hour through midmorning, according to poll worker Kevin Andrew.

Voters did not pass that time as maybe expected, however. There were few absorbed in their phones. Few in silence. In large part, they talked with each other. The environment was less like a typical voting place and more like a cross-generational class reunion. And really, that’s what it was.

There was chatter of new babies, college majors and better days past.

Andrew, who was a long time employee at the local high school, has worked the polls for as long as he can remember.

“I started doing it over a decade ago,” Andrew said. “I get to give back to the community and see all these smiling faces at the same time.”

And smiles there were, but one can only dwell on the comforts of home for so long.

The place that raised me endorsed a candidate that ran the most disgusting campagin in the history of American politics.

Clinton County, where Rossville resides, turned out in force for Donald Trump, with nearly 71 percent of the vote going to the President-elect. Looking up and down the line on Tuesday morning, that doesn’t come as much of a surprise. The small community is close-knit and lacks no empathy for its inhabitans, but it’s largely homogeneous.

The population of 1,653 is 93 percent white according to the most recent census data, and the town boasts an evangelical church on nearly every corner.

That morning, residents queued neatly around parked fire engines as they sheltered from the rain like they do the woes of the world, a cavalcade of conservatives readying to send a message. A message that they value the integrity of Breitbart News, the Drudge Report and Townhall more than that of The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. A message that they value innocuous emails more than words of misogyny and racism. And a message that empathy dwindles beyond the enclave of their school district.

The problem is familiar not just for this town, but for our country historically. Rugged, individual triumph has been a subject of saccharine infatuation since our country’s inception.

Abraham Lincoln ended slavery. Thomas Edison sparked innovation with the invention of the lightbulb. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the most powerful speech of the Civil Rights Movement during the March on Washington. The examples are endless. And while each of these men possessed a special aptitude that exemplified the myth of individualism, they also benefited from cooperation.

Lincoln relied on 1,227,890 committed Union soldiers. Edison wasn’t the one to invent the lightbulb, but rather he was the one to perfect it. The 250,000 supporters lining the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool during King’s speech made for an image as impactful as the speech itself.

This is meant to provide perspective not diminish the impact of these impressive individuals.

Perpetuating the narrative of rugged individualism isn’t inherently damaging, but it categorically minimizes the complexity of human societies and the gears that move them — subsequently making empathy more difficult.

Conservative pundits were quick to point out in the days that followed the election that the sun continued to rise, despite predictions of mass hysteria by more liberal outlets. They failed to note, however, the post-industrial haze of hate that clearly lacked any semblance of empathy accompanying the sunrise each morning.

Donald Trump epitomizes our infatuation with individual success and its applicability to wider prosperity. Whether that holds true will be decided over the coming four years.

I hope it does, for the sake of us all