By the time you read this I may have already gone into hiding. If, for any number of reasons, the presidential election is not at least a three to four point victory for Clinton, there will be blood. A close election is possibly the worst short-term outcome, for that level of uncertainty will give life to The Donald’s otherwise childish claims of election “rigging” and force reliance on political institutions during a low point in our confidence in them. A close Clinton victory will amplify Trump’s calls to solve our collective disagreements through extra-constitutional means. Worse, President Donald could not let me stay in SLO County. I’m an elections expert, which makes me a direct threat, but I also like taco trucks, soccer, and informed judgment, so unless I leave I would be re-educated in the Trump Manzanar Resort.
What will we have to talk about after the election, anyway? My best guess, one of two scenarios will play out here on the Central Coast, and throughout much of the country. In one case, we reach Apocalypse Americana, which will welcome in the Big Darkness. Here we accept the Death of the American Dream and trade the promise of widely shared prosperity, dignity, and democracy to a ticky-tacky simulacrum of that dream; individualism is replaced by selfishness, ruthlessness replaces integrity, and reciprocity is replaced by isolation.
Imagine if the county’s 1st District elects John “Uncle Fester” Peschong over the admirably human Steve Martin for county supervisor? The God-fearing people of that land will see their property values plummet along with their water tables. The Board of Supervisors, now controlled by the same greed-crazed real-estate developers who brought you the McMansions of Orange County, will hand water rights over to the largest land-owning families while fighting the enactment of climate-change legislation. This will be followed by a plague of bulldozers, descending onto ranches to develop every old family holding once the agricultural water dries up. Then comes the new rock quarry in Santa Margarita and the oil trains, leaving dust, disruption, and death to those who once called this place a community. The people will largely give up on politics, leaving control to the small cabal of misfits in COLAB, and behold, a great terror and darkness will fall upon the land. The CalCoastNews will be the paper of record.
On the other hand, the people could purge our politics of these poisonous parasites. Liberals and Libertarians, conservatives and progressives, Republicans and Democrats could bring to heel the powerful interests that thrive in our disorganization, and the bottom feeders who do their bidding.
People can weaken the grip of partisans on our politics. And there are people, people like Nic Mattson, a young newspaper reporter in Atascadero, who has had the courage to challenge the power structure in Atascadero and make a serious run for mayor. He has brought people across the partisan spectrum together, from right wing cowboys like Jerry Clay to progressive activists like Ellen Beraud, to break that town free from the sclerotic politics that has kept it at the bottom of the economic recovery in the county.
In San Luis Obispo, candidates like Andy Pease and Aaron Gomez bring their personal experience, professional ethics, and a genuine openness to listen to everybody to the table. Both members of the local business community, Aaron and Andy have put together platforms that show an unswerving commitment to our environment, while recognizing the importance that planning plays in housing and economic development. We can grow and prosper without making it a zero-sum game between housing, jobs, and environment.
But it’s not just about new faces. We have some serious collaborative wisdom to draw on. I’ve already mentioned Steve Martin, and he’s the type of public servant we need more of; people like Steve bridge the gaps and bring communities together, and he has proven his merit as Paso’s mayor. Similarly, Charles Bourbeau, former finance director for the Great City of SLO, is sure to bring some fiscal common sense and planning experience to Atascadero. And this is the take-home point: We should be looking for leaders who define themselves by working across our differences, not those who exploit them. Let’s bring about The Purge, and avoid The Big Darkness. My family likes the Central Coast.
Michael Latner is a political science professor and Master of Public Policy Program director at Cal Poly. Send comments through the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.