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“We are not pleased the way we thought we would be pleased”

8 November 2012 3,788 views One Comment

by Kunal Sangani

Regarding the election:

Monday two weeks ago, I found myself at Arrillaga late night, watching the final debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. I was not alone: at several of the tables, students sat with eyes glued to the monitors, absentmindedly chewing on waffle fries, chicken wings, and other staples of the late night menu.

Watching the debate, I became increasingly disillusioned by each of the candidates. The rhetoric which had inspired and energized me as a high schooler in 2008 felt worn, like soda gone flat; the political plans hinging on notions of revival and recovery appeared to be mired in bureaucratic complexities, nuances I couldn’t hope to understand. Abstractions upon abstractions wrapped around some thin, elusive truth.

Today, Stanford students once again gathered at Arrillaga, this time to watch CNN’s exit polls and electoral vote counts, and later the candidates’ concession and acceptance speeches. There were intermittent, half-hearted cheers as pundits predicted the voting result of one state or another. Hearing the factions cheer for their respective candidates’ victories, I was reminded of lines from Craig Morgan Teicher’s “Ultimately Justice Directs Them”:


America looks at itself
and sees
                 itself, not America.


Itself looks at itself
and calls
                 what it sees America.


America has begun
calling everything
                                  America no matter what.

Maybe the patriotic fervor which dominated the years following 9-11 doesn’t apply so much anymore, but Teicher’s words capture the imagined communities we feel we’re a part of in these elections. Mailing off my absentee ballot this past week, I had the fleeting notion that my vote had constituted my personal entrance into a collective of people sharing my same vested interests. I’d looked at my vote, “my candidate,” and felt that I could say this vast community of Americans checking the same box were somehow connected to me.

I’ve realized lately, though, that this isn’t the case. My support for a candidate does not place me within some select community in the same way that my support for a sports team denotes my belonging to that team’s home city. And, on some level, my endorsement of a candidate perhaps is simply that: a pledge of allegiance to another ‘team’ I can root for. At Arrillaga, we watch our candidates on the same screens as the San Francisco Giants. We watch the scoreboard of the electoral vote count inch upward, hold our breaths for the next play.

And regardless of whether, in this 2012 election, we are citizens or a stadium fans, the initial electricity of the election faded, I think we are not pleased the way we thought we would be pleased. I think we always believe that our lives will somehow change, that after election day we will step into some new light, marked with a newfound unanimity of purpose. As if with victory we will somehow slough off our daily troubles.

The vast majority of us likely find ourselves unaffected and untroubled, as if the distance between what the candidates say and what they intend is the same as the separation between our lives and theirs.

It’s a saddening prospect, that our votes don’t put us in direct contact with the communities we feel echo our own interests, with the candidates we idealize, or with the futures we want to live. Watching our duty as citizens reduced to a sport-like rivalry is disenchanting, at best. And finding that we are once again unable to alter the pattern of our lives is the source of that bad taste we’re left with after these elections, wondering where we lost sight of the vacancies in our visions.

(The title is a quotation from Kay Ryan’s poem, “Outsider Art.”)

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  • Ryan

    Nice article. Really captures the politics, partison sentiment and media frenzy of current time