The first law of thermodynamics states that “energy can never be created or destroyed, but it can be transferred to another body or changed into a different form.” To date, not a single physical reaction has been observed that violates this law.
When you wake up on Wednesday, things might not be so simple anymore.
Obviously I’m not talking about physics here, but instead about the sheer amount of energy that has been poured into this campaign season. After 22 months of build-up, both candidates claim that change will be coming on Tuesday. So with hundreds of paid campaign staffers, millions of volunteers and expenditures reaching into the billions, we have to ask: What happens to all of that energy? What about Wednesday?
Studies of American politics will show that major realignments seem to happen at around 30- to 40-year intervals. These are rare times when political will becomes strong enough for the government to undertake major reforms. With past realignments, the government was able to rewrite its narratives.
FDR said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” History and reading between the lines have taught us that this meant the government can and will provide.
The 1980 election afforded Ronald Reagan a similarly defining opportunity. “We will uphold the principles of self-reliance, self-discipline, morality and, above all, responsible liberty for every individual that we will become that shining city on a hill.” Here again the narrative changed, this time with the idea that government will become a minor actor instead of all-encompassing.
For many of us, this campaign is something deeply personal. Many have gone out and spent countless hours entering data and knocking on doors. For the most devoted volunteers, it has meant sacrificing sleep and occasionally the better part of their sanity. The worst thing would be to let that energy be destroyed.
The fact remains that no matter what happens on Tuesday, we will wake up the next day with an ailing economy, major energy concerns, government systems that desperately need revamping and, most importantly, a mandate for a new direction bigger than our parents can remember.
I believe that tomorrow will bring us the kind of crucial moment not experienced in decades. As of now there is no telling what the next narrative will become. No matter the outcome, it will not be written solely by the next president, but rather by what we as a nation choose to do.
We as a generation need to ensure that we work with our government to develop real solutions. The campaign will seem like play time compared to the problems we now face.
We are especially fortunate because, for many of us, the first taste of true political participation has brought inspiration. That energy cannot be destroyed. If anything, it must be transferred and transformed. Tomorrow we decide, after 22 months of emotion, anger, work, hope and occasionally some fun. On Wednesday we begin to draft the next narrative.
This is not an opportunity that every generation is afforded. It would be good to keep Johann Goethe’s words in mind: “If any man wish to write in a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul.”
What will we write? What will we do with all this energy? What will you do Wednesday?
The writer is a sophomore majoring in international affairs.