I rushed home from the airport today knowing that my early ballot would be waiting in my mailbox. Then, I voted with tears in my eyes. The tears were tears of joy, because after participating in eight presidential elections (nine if you count the envelope-stuffing I did as an underage volunteer) I was able to cast my vote for a woman, a woman whom I have supported since the beginning of this cycle and who I sincerely believe will be an outstanding president, who will work across the aisle as she did while a US senator and as she has done in securing the support of Democrats and Republicans alike in this unprecedented election cycle. But I was also crying tears of sadness, sadness that our election process has been turned into a reality TV show, not just by the appalling Republican candidate but by the media he pretends to decry. I was also crying tears of fear, for as I drive home from the airport, I heard news reports of the firebombing of a Republican party office in North Carolina.
Democracy is fragile. It rests, like a house of cards (pun intended) on the trust that the people have in the electoral process. A startling story in the Boston Globe on October 15 described the sentiments – and violent intentions – of several followers of the Republican candidate. The candidate himself is suggesting that if he loses it could only because the election process is somehow “rigged” against him. His ego looms so large that it will not let him believe that he can legitimacy lose, but he can and he will. How will the next president govern if 40% of the electorate doesn’t believe in the legitimacy of the process that elected her? I cried because I fear that for the first time in our history, there will not be a peaceful transfer of power; the NC incident being just a first small warning shot.
What does this have to with the arts? Our democratic system relies on certain unalienable rights, not only those called out in original draft of the Constitution, but those in its First Amendment: freedom of speech; freedom of (and from) religion; freedom of assembly; freedom (and independence) of the press; and freedom to petition the government. These freedoms, taken together, are the most important arts policy of all. But they are under threat by the Republican candidate, his followers, and even the Republican Party itself. The attacks on the media are unprecedented. These attacks range from journalists from certain media outlets being forbidden entrance to events to death threats on the publisher of the Arizona Republic after it endorsed a Democrat for the first time in its history. Freedom of religion is threatened by a candidate who wants to ban Muslims entry and his followers who want to set up surveillance in Muslim neighborhoods. A candidate who threatens retribution in the form of lawsuits and/or imprisonment when people speak out against him will threaten our freedom of speech as president, a freedom foundational to the expression of ideas, both artistic and not. And, I fear for our freedom to assemble when people threaten violent crowd action. In order to prevent violence will peaceful assembly be restricted?
When Hillary Clinton is elected on November 8, I will cry tears of joy. When I awake on November 9, I hope there will be no reason to cry tears of fear.