What I Mean When I Say “Greatness”

published September 16, 2016

I write out of the love for what is extraordinary in people. Each of us is capable of great things. I don’t mean the act of writing is great. In my writing I strive to be good and I have succeeded at times in goodness. No one who strives only to be considered great is particularly good at their craft, at least not in my experience. The desire for greatness often makes for indulgent writing, and indulgent writing is seldom universal. What’s extraordinary in all of us I find in the actions of characters, the example some great stories give me of humanity. Those are the moments I remember and try to create in my own work.

I remember.  Ma and Rose of Sharon in the final scene of The Grapes Of Wrath

And the two women looked deep into each other.  The girl’s breath came short and gasping.
She said, “Yes.”  …[she] whispered, “Will-will you all-go out?”

Rose, a pregnant girl who complained as she moved West with her family, gives birth to a stillborn baby. It’s The Great Depression. Everyone is starving, one man in particular is dying before their eyes. The scene is dramatic, shocking, a teenager overcomes the selfishness of youth to feed a dying man in the most vulnerable way possible. The writing was extraordinary because I was there in it. I was there in the dying man, there in Rose. I was hungry in the midst of starvation. I was the man at the receiving end of this strange, poetic source of food. Outside it was raining. The protagonist, Tom Joad, was on the run after killing a man.

Oh Tom

I was there in him too. That’s the other thing a great story does for me, gives an example of what is worst in us, those moments when an impetuous and irreversible decision is made. That was Tom, a young person who spent the story leading his family towards a better life, striving towards what was best in himself. At a critical moment he let all of that goodness turn to anger and he became the worst in us.

I am disappointed in this Presidential election because the candidates remind me of Tom Joad

The only reason I haven’t given up hope is because across the country there are an uncountable number of Roses. Their are people striving to be good, giving examples in the midst of this chaos. They prove to me that even in our collective madness there is still within everyone an extraordinary, everyday goodness. Ever since Bernie lost I’ve wished one of those people inspiring me was running for President.

Trump is the most horrible, but Clinton is not my choice because of the obvious differences. Unlike Trump she’s highly capable, tested and experienced, well educated and intelligent. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately the thing that seems to be guiding all of that to me is calculated political maneuvering. I’m currently aligned with her agenda, but it still feels very much like an agenda.

Obama is better at that sort of tactically positioning, so is Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, and even probably a handful of Republicans. The difference when they do it is that they share a humanity I can understand while making those necessary and strategic decisions. There is a passion that reaches me the same way the spirit of heroes and heroines in stories does.

I think passion is what inspires a lot of voters

Clinton does not immediately inspire many people. It’s one of the big reasons Trump, despite everything contemptible he has said, is still a competitive candidate. He is inspiring people. He is activating what is worst in us, but it is still inspiration. Clinton’s failure to inspire is another thing raising Trump up on the right, and raising 2 equally unqualified candidates on the left. It’s her robotic nature that makes so many distrust and dislike her. She’s not the reason this election is a train wreck, that is firmly on the shoulders of the other 3 candidates. She’s just not providing a counterweight. She doesn’t meet passion with passion, she meets it with by-the-book precision. This is not her time.

And that’s why Hillary inspires me in this election’s final stretch

Her intelligence is indisputable. She knows it’s not her time. Her best hope was 8 years ago and she was bested by a better candidate. She knows that most Americans voted for Obama because they could imagine having a taco with him, but that watching her eat one would likely be painfully awkward for everyone. She knows she’s not the character in the story you love, not the person you want to be. She’s not Obama or Warren or Bernie. She’s the flawed secondary character in the right place at a critical moment who can save everyone else by doing the right thing.

Whatever happens in November you can rest assured it will have no practical impact on the personal life of Hillary Clinton. She’ll still be rich, she’ll still be white and privileged. She’ll retire and enjoy the rest of her years in virtual anonymity. The abuse she’s getting now, she’s used to it. She knew it was coming at a force and velocity she’d never seen before, knows it might be the thing that propels our homegrown Hitler to power. She’s a robot. She’s a crook and a player. She’s a flip-flopping automaton. Yeah yeah yeah, she’s heard it. What else have you got on her? Those emails the FBI ruled at worst to be a legally poor decision?

She’s heard it all a thousand times and she continues to fight

She does it without poise, but that’s what inspires me. She is not Fred Astaire. She is an oaf of a father who loves his daughter and so dances with her at her wedding. He stumbles, he steps on her toe, he kisses her cheek and tells her how much he loves her. It’s not elegant, but it’s beautiful.

Hillary has had the shit kicked out of her leading up to this, and is getting picked apart for what she wears and for catching a cold. When I vote for Hillary it will be to keep alive the vision for this country I first saw with Bernie. I will vote thinking about the rights of LGBTQ Americans, the safety of our Muslim and Minority communities, the health insurance 20 million Americans will lose without her, the historic spirit of a nation that used to welcome immigrants to come make their dreams happen that is now screaming for walls to shut the world out.

Clinton might never achieve greatness, but she is the only candidate fighting for what is good in all of us

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