One of the little things I find particularly annoying online is when someone posts some dire bit of news and then solemnly intones, “AND SO IT BEGINS…” like some character from Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.

Usually, the “it” refers to some apocalyptic scenario that the writer has apparently been anticipating for years, with this one story representing the first falling domino leading to the inevitable doom.

Such posts try to be portentous, but only end up being pretentious instead. The social processes that are now underway, for good or ill, have been running for quite some time.

But Election Day 2015 (you did vote, didn’t you?) does mark a key milestone, if not an actual beginning, one to which some attention should be paid. Election Day 2016 is now less than a year away, and the ticking of that clock should be sending some chills into your bones.

The stakes are quite high. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to suggest that in a very real sense, the character if not the very soul of the country are up for grabs, and there are weighty and fundamental questions about ourselves waiting to be answered over the next twelve months. The answers to these questions aren’t solely dependent on the election results, mind you – they’re also dependent on the way the campaigns are conducted, how they are played out in the media, and of course the myriad other events that will happen around the world – but the vote will strongly indicate what direction we have chosen for the future.

Here are some of the things that I think the next 12 months will tell us:

  • Is America truly a democratic republic, where every citizen can feel they have a voice in the decisions that affect their futures – or is it rather a plutocratic oligarchy, where policy is driven by the wishes, whims, and desires of a small handful of the richest Americans?
  • Are we going to be a pluralistic, secular, multicultural society, with a broad range of beliefs and ideas engaged in spirited but respectful and productive interaction – or will we lose more of our social cohesion, and become further stratified and separated by race, religion, sexuality, and economic class?
  • Do we as citizens care about the healthy functioning of our political process – or are we content to accept soundbites and scandals in the place of substantive and meaningful discussion of issues?
  • Will we fulfill our intended roles as engaged citizens, demanding accountability and transparency from our elected officials – or have we been cynically lulled into disillusionment, disengagement, and apathy?
  • Will we respond to the next crisis – whether it’s a terrorist attack, financial malfunction, international incident, or environmental calamity – by pulling together with equanimity and cooperation, or will we use it as an opportunity to squabble amongst ourselves and score political points against each other?
  • Will we be able to rise above the short-sighted pressures of the market, and the chimeras of “national interest,” and address the threats of climate change and inequality effectively and fairly –  or will we stick with “business as usual” until it’s too late?

We’ll revisit this list (if the creek don’t rise and the Good Lord willing), in twelve months… and we’ll see how we did.


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