Charlie Harper: Tuesday’s Election? Not That Important

Charlie Harper

Monday, November 7th, 2016

This week I opened a letter from State Farm that I thought was junk mail.  Instead, I learned that my agent and friend Mickey Littlefield died a couple of weeks ago.  The letter was one of transition.

I first met Mickey when I moved back to Fayette County and became active in the local Republican Party.  Mickey was a member of the local school board, and eventually served as its Chairman. 

He almost always had a smile, even during times when there wasn’t much to smile about.  I remember asking him once late into his service how things were going, as I hadn’t read much about the board in the local papers.  “Great!” he beamed.  “If we’re not in the papers, then we’re probably doing our jobs.”

This news came a few days after I learned that another great Fayette County leader, Kenny Melear, had also passed.  Kenny served decades as a magistrate judge, but was best known for being the local BBQ master.  His restaurant was the unofficial headquarters for Fayette County politics. 

I don’t get back to Fayetteville much these days, save for the occasional appointment with Dr. Mike Wilson for checkup on my eyes, or to see the Oddo Brothers to do my taxes.  When I do, I realize that it’s changed.  Our family’s hardware store is now a restaurant.  Vast swaths of farmland are now a huge hospital complex and a movie studio.  Even for many of the buildings that look the same, the people are not. 

I’m getting old enough to appreciate the nostalgia of the good old days.  The Fayette County of my youth was always growing. I was surrounded by good people.  There were family elders that loved me and protected me.  There were great men and women of the community, elected and volunteers, that worked to make it a great place.

The bankruptcy of Delta Airlines combined with the real estate crash hit Fayette hard. I lost everything. A lot of my more successful friends lost even more.  Growth had been one of our main calling cards.  It looked liked the best days had passed.

Today, there’s that studio rising out of the old Rivers’ farm that’s now the largest complex outside of Los Angeles.  Delta is again healthy and thriving.  New home construction is back.  While it’s no longer my home, it’s clear that many people see a good future for the county.

That future won’t be like the Fayette County I remember from the 80’s, or the one my parents declared as their home in the 60’s.  Nostalgia is a powerful driver for emotion, but time and place will move on, with our without us.

So why am I writing this on the eve of a Presidential election?  Especially on one of the most surprising, polarizing, and to many disappointing in generations?

If I may be even more contrarian than usual, I will submit to you this:  This election isn’t that important.

**Waits while you re-read that….Yes, that’s what I said…OK? Let’s continue.**

Elections have become more about entertainment and sport than they are about governing. Campaigns serve as a full time vehicle to air grievances.  The rise of social media has only exacerbated the disconnect between campaigning and governing.  As soon as one election ends, the losing side immediately fixates on stopping everything until the next one.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

I’m not aware of a sitting President ever visiting Fayette County.  I believe Vice President Quayle made a campaign stop there once.  Regardless, the people that made Fayette County great weren’t Presidents.  They were the Mickey Littlefields and Kenny Melears, along with numerous teachers, sheriff’s deputies, pastors, and neighbors. 

Wednesday morning there are going to be a lot of unhappy people.  About half the country won’t like the choice we’re going to make for President.  About half aren’t going to like the party that will control the House.  And the professional political machine will immediately begin to handicap how that will change in 2018 and 2020.

Eventually, most of us will realize that we don’t live in Washington. While those folks certainly impact our lives, we still have to live, day to day, every day, between elections. We decide if the communities we live in will be great. We decide if the energy of our communities is positive and growing, or negative and dying.  It’s ultimately up to us - not Atlanta, and not Washington D.C.

I’ll be part of that machine that spends some time looking ahead.  I’ll be looking to January where policy will be made (or not) that affects us at the state level.  But I’m also going to make a commitment to myself to spend more time outside of this bubble of our own creation - With friends and neighbors, living a non political life.

Among those things I need to do is get back to Fayetteville and see Dr. Wilson.  He won’t be checking me for hindsight.  It’s all about being able to look forward if we’re going to be great, regardless of how the results from Tuesday turn out.