The US Presidential election is forty days from today. In spite of Covid and the economy and the civil unrest and the death of RBG and all the talk of potential voter fraud, it will take place. However contested the results may become, the election will be a pivotal event for this country — dare I say even one of “biblical proportions.”
Forty days and forty nights. That phrase, in itself, is weighty with significance. Forty years are mentioned 146 times in the Bible. The great flood lasted 40 days. Moses spent 40 years in Egypt and 40 years in the desert while the Israelites wandered and manna rained down. Mohammed was 40 when he received his revelation, and Jesus was tempted for 40 days and nights before his public life. Christians observe 40 days of Lent; even human gestation is about 40 weeks. Ultimately, the meaning of 40 indicates a very long time. Need I say more about the importance of these 40 days?
Yet, in the case of this election, forty days of preparation and penance may be both too long and not enough. Can we as a people endure 40 more days in what already seems like a very long time of continuing rancor and vitriol, protests and violence, threats and recriminations? Haven’t we had more than enough of political posturing, personal insults, conspiracy theories, robo calls and campaign ads? Trump filed his reelection paperwork for 2020 with the FEC just five hours after his inauguration on January 20, 2017, and has since held over 325 campaign rallies during his time in office. Haven’t we had enough already!
But time is also running out. In some states, voting has already begun, even though there has been no funding to ensure election security and no resolution of the post office mess. Prompted in large part by health and safety concerns due to the coronavirus, the Trump-Biden election of 2020 is reaching new heights (or perhaps we should say new lows) in terms of voting rights litigation: some 190 lawsuits in 43 states and DC have been filed to challenge state election laws regarding mail-in ballots, registration deadlines, polling sites and voter eligibility. Most of these cases are still working their way through the courts.
Meanwhile, voter interest has soared, particularly among young people, and registrations have doubled or even tripled in lots of states: for instance, a record number of 1.5 million new voters have registered here in Texas and we have only two weeks to go before early voting begins on October 13. (Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order adding a one-week extension to the usual 17 day early-voting period to reduce crowding and increase safety, but this extension is now being challenged in the Texas Supreme Court.)
And now, with only 40 days left, we have the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a new urgency, at least among conservatives, for confirmation of a replacement on the Court by Election Day. Democrats, still smarting from the Merrick Garland travesty and Republicans, fearing another Bush vs. Gore election dispute with a 4-4 Court have turned what should have been a time of respectful mourning and thoughtful consideration for the legacy of a great woman in American history into yet another “political bonfire,” as columnist Maureen Dowd puts it. (“Will the Election Turn on RBG?” The New York Times, Sept. 18, 2020) Too little, too late.
Bible stories and the signs and symbols in them retain their relevance not simply as matters of faith for those who believe, but also because they offer timeless lessons about human behavior and ways to express the meaning of our own experience. We return time and again to the stories of the Old Testament and the parables of the New Testament for the same reasons that we revisit Shakespearean plays or reread classic works of literature. Human nature never changes and the good, the bad, and the ugly remain ever with us — and within us.
I have been alternatively amused and appalled by the conjuring of all the biblical references during the Trump administration, culminating on June 1 when he, himself, stood outside St. John’s Episcopal Church brandishing the Bible as both a material symbol of divine authority and a convenient prop for another show of political theatre. Talk of the apocalypse and the anti-Christ notwithstanding, along with the eagerness of the “rapture” believers for it all to come to pass, I do have to admit that I have actually become unnerved of late by the fires and the floods and the plague that America is battling. The long-suffering Job might have asked, “Why us?”
And now the locusts are swarming in East Africa in the biggest infestation in a century. I hope they don’t make it over here. As Job might say, “We really have had enough already.”