As the ubiquitous, exhausting, ugly and unsettling election campaign trudges on, I often find myself remembering something my high school buddy Artie used to say. We were sports nuts and our conversations often focused on coaching tactics, game plans and strategic philosophies. Invariably, Artie would remind us, in his thick Brooklyn accent, "It don't mean nuttin' if you ain't got the horses."
By horses he meant players. Specifically, he meant that teams can have the smartest and most inspiring coaches, who put together impeccable game plans and make brilliant tactical decisions, but if the horses don't deliver--that is, if the players don't execute--it's all for naught. Sure, a well-coached team of mediocre players will do better than it would with bad coaches and stupid game plans, but they won't win championships.
Artie's street-smart wisdom is a reality check in this surreal election season. Amidst the nonstop media clamor, it's easy to forget that the candidates--mainly Hillary and Donald, of course, but also everyone vying for Congressional seats and local offices--are essentially competing for coaching or managerial positions. But we're the players, and in the long run, the outcome of our games, i.e., the quality of our individual and collective lives, will come down to us--not just how we vote, but how we behave, what we value and prioritize, the thoughts we think, the emotions we feel, the decisions we make.
Needless to say, elections matter, and this one matters more than most. I have not been this apprehensive about an election since 1968, when the prospect of a Nixon victory terrified me. That fear turned out to be justified, and Nixon was Abraham Lincoln compared to Trump. The thought of President Donald not only scares the hell out of me, the very possibility embarrasses me as an American. In the face of that nightmare I take solace in knowing Artie was right. We're the players, and if we do our jobs well we will endure, maybe even prosper, regardless of who gets to run the team.
I will breathe a huge sigh of relief if Trump is soundly defeated. At the same time, I know that Hillary Clinton, for all her skills, will not usher in Utopia--not any more than her husband or Barack Obama or anyone else did, or could have, or will. Because, in our roles as citizens, family members, neighbors, employers, employees, etc., if we make foolish, short-sighted decisions, act out of self-centered, greedy or malevolent motives, interact with hostility or indifference, think only of ourselves and our tribe, and satisfy our desires with no regard for the welfare of others or the planet ... well, we can elect the second coming of George Washington and fill his cabinet with Platos, Buddhas and Einsteins, and we will still have intractable problems.
We dream of global peace, a sustainable environment and shared prosperity like sports fans dream of championships. But you gotta have the horses. That's us, and we need an upgrade. America is badly in need of political reform, economic reform, education reform, electoral reform, police reform and other reforms. But we won't get highest quality social reform unless we first have internal reform on an individual level.
We need consciousness reform to liberate ourselves from narrow vision, conditioned thinking and attachment to materialism. We need spiritual reform to transcend dogma and tribalism, to open hearts, expand minds and awaken to the interconnected oneness of all our souls.
Fortunately, unlike athletes, we players get to vote on who coaches us. But with our highly deficient collective consciousness, with hearts and minds clouded by ignorance, stress, anxiety, delusion and ego-driven fantasies, we wouldn't recognize a Lincoln or a Socrates--or a Jesus for that matter--if they campaigned in our living rooms. Besides, great souls would walk away from the political process in disgust long before we had a chance to vote for or against them. As George Carlin once said, "If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you're gonna get selfish, ignorant leaders."
Nevertheless, as citizen players in what is still a democratic game, we get to yell back at incompetent or abusive coaches without being benched. We can argue and protest and make our voices heard and band together as teammates and, if necessary, take to the streets and demand change. We are the players, and somehow that gives me comfort as November draws near.