The cost of election 2016 is estimated to reach $6.6 billion by November 8th. Let me repeat that number: $6.6 billion. Dollars. How many families could have been fed for that amount? I don’t know, as I have no concept, no frame of reference, of what $6.6 billion looks like. A quick calculation shows that this is more than 90,000 times the annual income of the average working-class family. So, perhaps a simplistic way of thinking about it is that we could have fed, housed and clothed 90 thousand families for the money spent on advertising, charter planes, hotels, steak dinners, and venues for events. Or we could have gone a long way toward replacing parts of our aging infrastructure. We could have used that money to help young people go to college. Instead, we got $6.6 billion worth of annoyance and grief for a year. To be clear, only a mere $1.3 billion was spent on the presidential election, the rest on senate and house races.
But there is a much more significant cost, in addition to the $6.6 billion, and it is beyond measure. I refer to the human cost, the cost to our society. Much has changed in the last 16 months in this country, and it is no longer one that I am particularly proud to be a part of. So much mud has been flung in every direction, that eventually the citizens, We The People, decided it was easier to just play in the mud than to keep ducking mud balls. Easier to get down and dirty with the rest, rather than try to keep ourselves above the muck. We no longer have thoughtful conversations where each person actually listens to the other and even considers his/her point of view. We have, just as the candidates have, resorted to shouting matches and name-calling. We have driven wedges between ourselves and our friends and family. And while we lay the blame at the doorstep of the candidates, it seems to me that as adults, we should have been capable of rising above the filth, of making our own choices. It is rather like a child, when castigated for doing something wrong, saying “but he did it first!” But we are not children, though we have certainly acted like it for the past year.
The greater cost of this election is the cost to ourselves, our self-respect. Today, in the heat of election day, we still will not see that, but in a week or two, we will look back at our behaviour, tally our losses, and ask ourselves, “what have I done?” Much of the damage that has been done to the nation, to the political parties, and to us as individuals will take years, perhaps even decades, to repair. Some may prove to be irreparable. It has, for some of us, taken a personal toll on our health, both mental and physical. Sleep patterns, appetites, the ability to be ‘in the moment’, to focus on conversations or tasks at hand are minimized.
In less than three months, a new president will sit in the White House. It may end in disaster or it may not, but one thing is for certain, our country will never be quite the same again, nor will we. We will see ourselves and others through a different lens, and the scars of this year will be visible for a long time, perhaps forever. This is not the way it is supposed to be.