U.S. Election Day is over a month behind us. Depending on our traditions and beliefs, we may be preparing to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or just the returning of longer days. Many Americans are beginning to feel our way toward a future–a future still very unsure. During the final days of the fall campaign, I began to see a new crop of political slogans, advocating a particular vote as a way to “drain the swamp of D.C. politics.” I’ve been tossing around various dream versions of what “draining the swamp” in a wider sense might look like.
Usually I’m more of a word person than an image person, but I have several cartoon images in my mental collection that may be relevant. All are accessible via Internet. The first is a 1971 Walt Kelly panel from his long-running cartoon about Pogo the possum and his beloved swamp, a mythical variation of the Okefenokee. Pogo is treading across a morass of human-generated trash near his swamp home, stepping carefully to avoid hurting his feet. Beside him, Albert the alligator is waxing eloquent about pristine wilderness. Pogo is having none of the hype.
“We have met the enemy,” he retorts, “and he is us.”
The second cartoon is a 1976 strip by New Yorker cartoonist Dana Fradon, giving a baseball style box score for a supposed game between realists and idealists. Though some innings are scoreless, in most, the Realists make between one and six runs, while the Idealists are held to no score. However, at the end of the game’s nine innings, the final score reads: “Idealists 1; Realists 0.” The third cartoon was sent to me by a friend last summer. I haven’t yet been able to trace its original source–I believe it first appeared in 2014 in a Quebec-based news outlet. It shows an audience for a sermon or speech of some kind.
“Who wants change?” the leader intones. All hands go up. The follow-up question: “Who wants to change?” gets no hands at all, only a series of downcast looks.
Pogo and Fradon’s baseball players and the 2014 speech audience help me stay hopeful that our badly divisive election may have the unintended consequence of helping bring us together. We sorely need to drain the noxious elements of our personal and collective swamps, while retaining the generativity of the diverse wetlands they also represent.
Perhaps this election can draw us to deeper service. Our nation’s founders were realistic enough to know that we are not likely ever to create a totally perfect union, yet idealistic enough to begin our Constitution with the phrase “to create a more perfect union.” In the best tradition of our founders, and of more recent visionary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., may we use the day of service we’ll celebrate as his holiday on Monday, January 16, 2017, to stop obsessing about who “won” the election. Instead, may we rededicate ourselves to the spirit of service that has meant so much for the progress and maturation of our beloved and varying country. If each of us will reach out to help and be helped by a person or group we would not normally associate with, we can begin the needed process of healing ourselves and each other, in the true spirit of draining the swamp.