Happy Electors Day (or: Why I’m Not Actually a Pessimist)

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)


I know many people who have not stopped talking about the electors to me since Election Day.

“Don’t you think that will happen, Bridget? I mean, there’s just no way they can let him be president!”

No, I answer. No, I definitely don’t think the electoral college is gonna do anything.

They make sad puppy dog faces at me.

“Well, you can be negative, but I’m going to choose to be positive! I’m going to have faith! People will do the right thing!”

Yeah, okay, you do that.

“Something will happen, they’ll stop him somehow! I read it on Facebook!”

Yeah, okay, sure.

Here is a short list of things that will save you before the Electoral College saves you:

  1. An asteroid hitting Trump tower.
  2. A hyper intelligent army of sharks.
  3. China.

If you were just going to choose to be optimistic until your hopes were dashed and then shut up about it, that would be one thing.

But no, what you’re going to do is get heavily emotionally invested in this one idea of hope, and when it doesn’t happen, you’re going to be loudly and vocally upset as if the election just happened all over again. You’re going to wallow in that pain, and leave all your wounds raw. You are going to stay soft and vulnerable, and tell me about how much it hurts over and over. You’re going to channel your disappointment and grief over something that was never going to happen in the first place into a thousand more fake news reposts and medium blog posts of vacuous people saying the same vacuous things. Obama was supposed to accuse him of treason! He doesn’t want to be president, he’ll drop out! He can’t be president, he wasn’t even born here! And this continued sense of drama, this time a vision of yourself as the victim at the hand of the evil, by-the-book electors, will soon be glossed over by all the Christmas cookies you have to bake and all the presents you have to wrap. The New Year will happen, and you’ll get drunk with your friends ,and at some point you’ll post this on Facebook:

“I don’t care if it’s naive of me, or you think I’m being delusional, I’m going to choose to be optimistic. I think people will always do the right thing in the end.”

There is no basis for that belief, in, like, all of human history.

The world is a hard, cruel, predatory place. The sharks know this. Horrible things happen, and massive amounts of people die in unimaginably painful ways all the time, every day. People will always choose to only do what they think is in their best, immediately foreseeable interest, and then they will try to change the narrative to show that was the “right thing” all along. People are liars, thieves, and murderers. Death, cruelty, poverty, and oppression are the norms of human behavior, not shocking big deals.

That’s why your positivity sucks – it’s a flimsy mask built on purposeful ignorance.

But you’re so cynical, Bridget! What’s the point of all that negativity? Focus on the happy things in life! Love wins!

Listen, the road to hell is paved with happy thoughts someone contracted out to their cousin’s construction company.

But I’m not cynical. Here’s a version of positivity I don’t think sucks.

The only reliable catalyst for social change is old generations dying out, and new generations growing up with activists screaming at them. Even that doesn’t always work. When it does work, sometimes it’s so incremental, we barely see it in a lifetime. The digital age has convinced us everything should be happening faster, but we invented computers, not new people. And people still have to die out.

(When that stops happening, that’s when we’re really fucked.)

Real cultural change takes centuries. There are still people alive who think monarchies are cool. That’s insane. Of course Putin and Trump exist. The only reason Americans keep referring to Hitler is because they don’t know enough about the rest of the world to use the names of a dozen other terrible, corrupt, cruel men who took over governments in more recent times. What’s going on here is nothing new. We are not precious.

But, listen, overall, we’re doing better. Historically, the human condition has improved. Even when climate change kills millions of us and changes the quality of our lives irrevocably, women will still have worked their way out of chattel-dom, slavery of any person will still be immoral, and it will still not be socially acceptable to kill gay people. In most countries, anyway. We will not forget the tastes of those freedoms, because we’ve invented ways of recording them and passing them down. We invented the idea of every day charity. The idea that being poor doesn’t make you an inherently bad person is going to continue to grow. Man, that one is so key. We used to believe being rich meant God wanted you to be in charge. I mean, a lot of people still believe that. But less than before.

If you wake up in despair because you think it’s all falling apart, read some history. A lot of history. You’ll see how tenuous the governments of men are, how shitty people are in general. But you’ll also see that slowly, slowly, slowly, it’s not all useless.

I went to a party where no one was allowed to admit Trump was going to be our president. “There’s still a month! Something will happen! I read about this thing on Facebook!” they said. At the end of January, those people are going to descend into a warm, vapid, snake-pit of apathy, because they didn’t prepare themselves properly for the winter.

Don’t give me your shallow, fickle, fakely-funded positivity – thinking there will be messiahs to save your peace of mind, and when no messiahs come forth, there is always craft beer, dog videos, and smiling apathy. That kind of positivity is easily broken, and more easily mended. It subsists off the drama of the social media rollercoaster, like a bad relationship. That is not real positivity, that’s boredom and validation in the form of denial.

Give me instead the positivity of a person who knows how very terrible it can still yet be, who knows no one is coming to save them, that they are going to lose at every turn. But they wake up every morning knowing they’re going to try and create something, despite the fact the world is just gonna try to tear it down relentlessly. That’s the kind of positivity that stands up to the stress of centuries.

Or give me sharks.