Tuesday morning, before I do anything else, I will unfurl my American flag and slip it into the holder mounted next to my front door.

Normally, I perform the ritual only on official holidays. Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day – it’s a quiet but powerful reminder of the sacrifices made by our military, the courage and genius of our founding fathers, the endurance of our workforce …

But this year is different. This year, Election Day stands out as the most important date on the calendar. A day that, like none other in my lifetime, will set the course for the days, weeks and years to come.

Strangely, the closer Nov. 3 gets, the less anxious I feel. I’ve heard the talk of post-election disputes, from arguing in the courts to rioting in the streets, from runaway state legislatures to legal standoffs right up to Inauguration Day, and I suppose I should be worried. But deep down, I’m not.

Part of the reason is that when it comes to electoral politics, I’ve always been an optimist. Sure, that’s burned me at times – I’ll never forget voting in my first election at age 18 in 1972 and blinking in absolute disbelief when I woke up to the news that Republican Richard Nixon had defeated Democrat George McGovern in one of the biggest landslides in U.S. history.

I took comfort back then in the fact that McGovern at least won in one place – my then-home state of Massachusetts. And I felt even more reassured when, less than two years later, a disgraced Nixon became the first president ever to resign from office, ending the national trauma that came to be known simply as Watergate.

Which brings me to another underpinning of my world view. It’s called the pendulum effect.

The dictionary defines it first as a law of physics, discovered by Galileo in 1602, that describes how gravity and momentum combine to produce the swinging motion of a pendulum.

But then there’s this second definition: “The theory holding that trends in culture, politics, etc., tend to swing back and forth between opposite extremes.”

In recent months, I’ve felt that pendulum swinging away from the extremes that have roiled this nation not just for the past four years under Donald Trump’s devastatingly divisive presidency, but for the past 12 years since Barack Obama became the nation’s first Black president.

Back in 2008, a sense of euphoria swept the land as Obama stepped out onto the stage at Chicago’s Grant Park, his wife and two young daughters at his side, and gave voice to a turning point in our nation’s history.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Obama told the world. “But tonight, because of what we did on this date, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.”

Yet, as surely as the pendulum had swung toward what was once unthinkable – a Black family occupying the White House – it swung back. The racism that still festers across this land, coupled with the anger across blue-collar America that it had been taken for granted and left behind long enough, gave us first the tea party and then, alas, Donald Trump.

So here we are again. The political divide has never seemed so sprawling – although one need only to look back to the Civil War to know it has been this bad and then some.

Nevertheless, these are perilous times. We’ve had violence in the streets. We’ve had political paralysis – except, of course, when it comes to fast-tracking conservative judges – that crushes hope and foments a deep, abiding cynicism. We have a president whose utterances grow more bizarre, more detached from reality, by the day.

And yes, we have a resurgent pandemic that, amid all the rest, chooses this moment to demonstrate how American exceptionalism is but an illusion – we as a nation excel not out of some mythical birthright, but only through hard work, tolerance, a sense of common purpose.

Yet, as we hurtle toward this climactic moment, I’m more excited than exhausted.

I believe in my gut that the pendulum is moving once again, away from the hate and animosity that have defined the past four years and toward an essential goodness that has always guided this country in theory if not always in practice.

I believe that while there may be flare-ups of civil unrest, the coast-to-coast bloodbath that some predict won’t happen because the vast majority of Americans – left, right or in the middle – are not violent people.

I believe that the counting of the ballots, while difficult in some places, will not fall victim to deep-state manipulation or foreign meddling because those who run our elections are honest folks who fiercely cherish their role in our democratic process.

I believe that come Jan. 20, Joe Biden will begin the hard work of shepherding the country back from this abyss.

Finally, I believe in my flag.

What other symbol better instills the sense that in the end, we’re all in this together?

Where else do the colors red and blue complement each other so perfectly?

Why not fly it on Election Day?

And while we’re at it, why not make Election Day a national holiday?

It would boost turnout even beyond the record numbers we’re already witnessing. At the same time, it would confer upon “the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November” a sense of reverence, an appreciation for the self-evident fact that this day makes all the rest possible, this day is the cornerstone of our democracy.

Could this all be just another bout of McGovernesque wishful thinking? Will I wake up Wednesday – or weeks from now – to find that we’re falling further into that abyss rather than finally escaping it?

Anything’s possible, I suppose. But Tuesday morning, as I watch that flag flutter in the breeze, I’ll be smiling at the new day.

The day we swing, once again, away from our past – and toward our future.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: