Is the pitch of campaign rhetoric peaking too early? Candidates always work themselves into a vein-bulging frenzy telling voters this election is the most important ever, but now they’re going further. This election is about more than the future of the country, what we bequeath our children, or even the bedrock principles of our nation. The stakes are much, much higher.
Earlier this month, Hillary Clinton said to the New York Times’s Mark Leibovich, “As I’ve told people, I’m the last thing standing between you and the apocalypse.” Her running mate, Tim Kaine, has been telling voters, “There’s existential values at stake in this race” – that is, pertaining to existence.
Yesterday afternoon Donald Trump told supporters at a rally in Florida, “Our great civilization … has come upon a moment of reckoning…. This is a struggle for the survival of our nation…. This is our moment of reckoning as a society and as a civilization itself.”
If 24 hours are a lifetime in politics, as U.K. Prime Minister Harold Wilson famously said, then the 26 days until the election are an eternity, and the candidates have left themselves nowhere to go. The election is now about the end of the nation, civilization, the world.
But is it really? Superlatives are dangerous in talking about America’s long electoral history, though it seems safe to say this election has inflamed passions more powerfully than any in years, maybe decades. Merely talking about it can endanger friendships and marriages. It’s easy to understand how voters and candidates can feel that literally everything hangs in the balance.
So I’ll certainly infuriate partisans on both sides by saying I’m confident that regardless of who wins, America is going to be okay. Not to say it will be the same; obviously the outcome will make a difference. But while the thought may seem inconceivable in the pulsing heat of this moment, the fact is we’ve been through worse threats than Trump or Clinton. The only time we actually faced the apocalypse was in the Cold War. The only time the nation faced an existential threat was in the Civil War. Our institutions and our culture, which are unique in the world, got us through and will do so again.
I’ll skip the long list of problems America faces; you know what they are, and they’re bad. So if your candidate loses, please don’t leave the country, as so many overwrought partisans on both sides are promising to do. Your nation is a great one, and it deserves your help and support. If you’re willing to give it, even a loss on November 8 won’t be the end of the world.
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