Last night I watched The Walk, the story of Philippe Petit’s 1974 wire walk between the Twin Towers. The story’s heart-stopping climax portrays Petit, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, caught on the wire between the North and South Towers as police wait to arrest him on either side. During our silly season, I, too, feel caught between twin towers. Not about which candidate to support. I have no doubt there. I am caught between hope and expectation.
Oddly President Obama first crystallized this dichotomy for me. His 2008 campaign was about Hope, yet behind that hope stood the expectation of success that any politically aware individual knew was beyond the ken. I worried that first-time voters would ascribe powers to him that he didn’t have. That their expectations were out of line with political reality and that their perceived betrayal at anything less than total success would lead them to eschew further political involvement. I suspect to some extent this may have happened.
Oh, those pesky rising expectations.
So where is the line between hope and expectation?
A president is neither king nor dictator. She or he is not able to decree that millions of jobs will be created. That racial divisions will dissipate. That other countries will bend to our will. Expectations of such can only lead to cries of foul. And yet, each candidate offers us the promise that to say it is so will make it so. We are destined to be disappointed.
Are we to desire little from our politicians and be grateful for the breadcrumbs scattered that replace meaningful action? No, our job is to beat the ground and demand more and bigger and better, but also to acknowledge that ultimately our expectations will never be met. Such is the mess of democracy.
The Buddhists teach that it is better to have no expectations and therefore no disappointments. And yet, hope is such a driver of action that to live without it means a poorer life. But political hope seems a fool’s errand.
Thus I have taken this approach.
I do not expect that any candidate for office will succeed more than she will fail. I do not expect to agree with every decision made. I will attempt to not anger about compromise that falls short. I will try not to hold them to impossible standards not ascribed to the rest of us. Yes, a higher standard of propriety and service for the public good, but not impossible, infallible standards.
I will support a candidate whose articulated positions generally align with mine. I will not be quick to turn at the first politically necessary divergence. I will judge success as a glass half full.
There will never be a wall built along our southern border. Thankfully, millions of immigrants will never be deported. Sadly, college will never be free. Neither will healthcare. I’m sorry if I’ve burst some bubbles out there, but I am a student of politics. My feet live firmly on the ground. I have expectations of small steps progressing with difficulty and occasionally a big ass change that warms my heart. I am both easily pacified and never satisfied.
I am hopeful for the next administration even though I know the opposition will do everything possible to thwart action. I live in hope because not to means I turn even more cynical and angry and withdrawn from life. And that is a deafening place to be. For now, I will temper those hopes for a better world with a rising expectation that sanity and compassion will overrule hate.
For now, I will sway on a wire in the clouds, balancing my aspirations with reality, ever mindful of the winds of negativity, and hope that I don’t fall off.