During my years living abroad I got to spend time in places where the politics and the government rules were dissimilar from when I was raised. As an American living abroad I seldom came in direct contact with the local governments in the places where I landed. At most a check with the passport, a lighthearted search through the local customs inspector.

Bob Kalish observes life from a placid place on the island of Arrowsic (motto: You’re not in Georgetown yet). You can reach him at [email protected]

True story. My wife and I were working at the International School of Bangkok and were planning a long weekend at a Buddhist center in Rangoon, Burma (now Myanmar). A Burmese woman who worked at the school gave my wife a package and asked us to give it to her sister in Rangoon, a sister she hadn’t seen in 10 years. At the time Burma was one of the poorest countries in the world, ruled by a junta of military generals who had exploited the rich natural resources and closed off communication behind a “bamboo curtain.”

After we arrived in Rangoon, a phone call led to a meeting in a public park across from the Strand Hotel, a landmark of British rule during the Raj. The Burmese woman was very emotional when I handed her the package. She opened it right there in the public park, explaining it was the safest place out of reach of the government’s big ears. The package consisted of two cans of Carnation evaporated milk. She smiled, bowed and clasped her hands before her in a “wai.” I hadn’t realized that delivering a couple of cans of milk was fraught with danger. The police and soldiers visible in the park were there to intimidate the Burmese, not to protect citizens. It was a snapshot of what life was like under a dictatorship. That experience came to mind while reading recently in the newspaper that a “militia” in Michigan was making plans to kidnap the governor of that state so as to start a “second civil war.”

An Australian friend once asked me why only about half the population of the USA bothered to vote. Half the population. Look around you, this is what happens in a democracy taken for granted. You get people in positions for which they are not qualified. People who quote the Constitution but have never read it.

“In Australia you get fined without a good excuse for not voting,” the friend said. “What’s wrong with Americans?” Other foreign friends wondered the same thing. Americans seem to appreciate their good fortune to be born in a country that gives them the right to disagree. Yet, so many of us fail to exercise our most sacred right.

I was overseas a long time ago. Many things have changed. Here’s what bothers me: There is talk in some circles about a second civil war to occur if the election in a few days yields a particular result. We don’t need another civil war. If you think a pandemic changes life drastically, wait until the eruption of yet another war, civil or otherwise, puts us into the hands of law and order fanatics.

We’re not the only ones facing this trend. Marked by rises in anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic rhetoric, conservative groups in France, Sweden, Germany and Poland, to name a few, have grown at the same time. Continued growth would be troublesome. And that is why every person in this country should make it a priority to vote. Don’t allow this great experiment to fail because of a lack of will or an errant point of view. Go now.

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