I wrote–am writing–a series of contemporary romances set in and around American politics. The first one plays out against a budget negotiation. In the third act, the clock is running low on a possible a government shutdown when…okay, you’re going to have to read the book when it releases in April (APRIL!) to find out. But it should come as no surprise that as I’ve been working through my edits, I’ve been watching current events with more than my usual level of interest.
I am a very long-standing political junkie. When I was a kid, I embraced the gamesmanship of it, the pageantry. If war is politics by other means, as von Clausewitz tells us, then elections seemed like politics by metaphor. I was obsessed.
One of my earliest memories is watching the 1988 election with my family. They coded the maps differently then. I remember watching the country slowly filling up with Republican blue and imaging a blue tide sweeping the nation. As if elections represented something real and permanent and not a choice between not-all-together different candidates, likely all rich white men okayed by party bosses. The winners, chosen by a small majority of the percentage of the enfranchised who choose to vote, likely going on to careers of no import in a system where the outcomes resolve conflicts ground out in decades prior, like the 2004 election litigating issues from circa 1972.
In college, politics stopped seeming like a game. I became involved with a number of issue-based causes, including sexual and relationship violence response and prevention, which led to the years I spent in Washington <redacted>. Then I left DC for graduate school, for a far more healthy relationship with books and nineteenth-century periodicals. And by far more healthy, I mean not at all healthy.
For me, politics is 90% cynicism and 10% fervent, irrational, glowing hope. While I listen to Americans talk about the government shutdown today, I share all of their frustrations even as I want to scream, “But we have to sleep in the bed we’ve made! We are complicit in this system!”
And if we made it, we can unmake it. We can make it better.
Against history, against empirical evidence to the contrary, I believe that. I believe we are empowered and choose not to act. I believe we can be and do better. Alone and collectively.
So while I watch the news, I’ll be dreaming up plots. Plots about the overworked, largely powerless, aides who are working on too little sleep and too much caffeine to enact dreams conjured about a Washington that doesn’t, and hasn’t ever, existed.
And none of those plots will be stranger or less realistic than what’s happening on the Hill today.
(Edited for clarity.)