Photo by / Roman Samborskyi

Treat Yourself at the Polls

Well before I was old enough to vote — you had to be 21 then — I decided it was useless. Active in the antiwar and free-speech movements, proudly going balls-out reefer madness while naked and hunting ‘shrooms in a riverside cow pasture with my homophobic hippie friends, I wanted to crush the “establishment,” or at least live outside it. I’d read Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” and subscribed to his observation that voting simply permits a majority to press its will on everyone else without regard to moral conscience. Better, he wrote, to live in the woods and, whenever necessary, publicly break laws that are purely oppressive.


I remained loyal to this mild anarchy throughout my 20s. When I began to emerge from the closet around 27, the importance of protest and the futility of voting seemed all the more obvious. Fucking literally became an act of gay civil disobedience. We had to fight psychiatry, religion, and the law — a fight that may soon resume as the Supreme Court continues its reinstatement of American puritanism while the Congress sits by shifting its eyes and biting its nails because, you know, all that cash.


It’s not that I don’t believe government can help now and then, but its boldest actions are usually stymied. When I finished undergrad and headed into rural Georgia to edit weekly newspapers for five years, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act had brought significant challenges to the institutionalized and unapologetic segregation that was the norm there. In one town, the newly elected mayor owned a large slum. I’m talking countless shacks without plumbing. The city council years earlier refused to include the slum in a broad annexation. So, it was basically a large peninsula of county land jutting into the city, thus without access to mandatory city services like plumbing. This also kept the Black residents within an overwhelmingly white voting district.


The feds stepped in to require redistricting. They did it. No problem. Then, when a popular Black man ran for the mayor’s job, the local politicos held a meeting in which they convinced one of the two white candidates to bow out in order to ensure a majority for the white slumlord. The Black candidate, for reasons he never disclosed, refused to acknowledge the white boys’ strategy. The point is that on the rare occasion the government acts in good conscience to confront a majoritarian evil, it usually gets sabotaged. Now we see the courts blatantly enabling a return to the cruelty that the apparent majority of voting Americans favor. As always, we are left supporting what purports to be the lesser of two evils, aka Democrats.


I began to think differently on the day Bill Clinton reneged on his support of LGBTQ military service in favor of the idiotic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. I don’t understand why people want to join the military. I mean, retrospectively I did congratulate the Navy for kicking out my ex-partner for his voracious cock sucking, but, no, it wasn’t fair. Apart from the lunacy of blind love, I have no explanation for why gay people want to get married, but Bill Clinton’s signing of the Defense of Marriage Act was detestable. Meanwhile, his “welfare reform” eventually increased poverty in America. George Bush turned Iraq into a cradle of infanticide and proposed a popular constitutional amendment to outlaw all but heterosexual marriage. Barack Obama, who promised to codify Roe v. Wade, decided not to bother, maybe because he was so busy chasing and arresting whistleblowers. I was whining, as I had for decades, that I was going to move to Canada to join my less privileged draft-dodging friends from the ’60s.


Canada? I balked. What should I do? I sold out! I voted! It felt good — not because it did any good. It’s like flipping the switch to electrocute the nastier villain. It’s that video-game thing. Kill and kill and kill. You feel so good when the game is over. You know it means nothing, but catharsis is good. It’s therapeutic for a minute. It’s like masturbation fueled by Viagra’s promise of absolute, explosive power.


Do I sound cynical? Did you watch the Herschel Walker-Raphael Warnock debate? Walker, a graduate of the Trump School of Talking Shit, blathered about Warnock’s love affair with Joe Biden and showed off a badge he claimed to be proof of his work as a policeman. Warnock got dodgy when it came to questions about defunding the police and Joe Biden’s candidacy in 2024. The media’s reporting on the debate was as intentionally withholding as it was during Donald Trump’s ascendancy, not daring to point out the literal stupidity and cruelty of Walker’s babbling, much less asking how it is we have come to a point of such inhumanity that we elect candidates like him. Yes, that’s right. The media actually do have an obligation to blatantly report lunacy to the lunatics who support them — especially when the lunatics comprise about half the voting public. I’m sure you’ve noticed that it is only comedians who do real reporting now.


So vote. Please vote. Treat yourself. It will feel good. You will be a big star, baby, in a drama of empowerment that allows all of us to forget that we live in the “civilized” world’s cruelest society.