It’s rare that public figures admit to boredom-aversion as a motivation for casting a ballot, but billionaire investor and Trump supporter Peter Thiel did precisely that. “There’s a point where no corruption can be a bad thing,” he explained. “It can mean that things are too boring.” In a 2016 GQ feature on undecided voters, an unnamed Washington reporter made a similar admission: “So for me, four years of Trump, selfishly, sounds a lot more enticing, just because it's going to be a dumpster fire. And a Clinton administration would be more of what we're seeing now, which is carefully orchestrated speeches, behind-the-scenes Wealthy McWealthysons going in and out of the White House, and really horrible transparency with the press.” Matt Gertz of Media Matters responded to this by wondering “how such a nihilistic opinion could be held by an actual person.” Yet the fear of being bored, and the fear of not feeling sufficiently passionate about anything in particular, drives us in any number of other pursuits—in relationships, sports, religion, our jobs, even in our wars—so why shouldn’t it at least play some role in our political preferences? Especially since we know that our one vote won’t actually alter the final outcome?
I remember the night of the election. As the night progressed, gallows humor was replaced by a genuine sense of fear and panic. I left the election party I had gone to. My brother called me at midnight and started crying. “I’m not so much worried about us. I’m worried about mom and dad,” he told me. When I heard him put it like that, after what had become a long, depressing night, I started to cry as well—the first time I can remember crying about politics in my life. But the following day, and in the following weeks, I felt something I can’t quite remember feeling before. It’s a cliché, but I don’t know how else to describe it: I felt more alive, but I also saw it in so many of my friends and colleagues, particularly the ones whose lives would change in more profound ways. They changed jobs; they went back home to get more involved in local politics; instead of moving to the Middle East to fight for others’ freedom and equality, they realized they had to fight for their own.
Even as he declared the end of history, Francis Fukuyama coyly wondered whether the end of ideological competition was really something that we as humans beings, because of who and what we were, could ever truly accept. “Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again,” he wrote in the articles’ final sentence.
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Some people are “political romantics,” particularly writers, poets, and artists. One of the great romantics of recent decades was Christopher Hitchens. In his review of Hitchens’ last book before he succumbed to cancer, David Runciman said of the romantics that “they want something, anything, to happen, so that they can feel themselves to be at the heart of things.” Romantics can be in the thrall of the divine, often to destructive ends, but romantics, as in Hitchens’s case, can also come to loathe God. “Above all, in place of God they substitute themselves,” Runciman writes. Riffing on Runciman, The New York Times’s Ross Douthat writes that “every true romantic needs a great foe, a worthy adversary, a villain to whose destruction he can consecrate himself.”