Twenty years ago some of us were convinced society would grind to a halt at the end of 1999.
The buildup to the end of the year, which played like the end of human existence, was propelled by the possibility that our technology was going to fail us due to a programming shortcut that had been used in computer calendars. The use of the last two digits when determining the calendar year instead of four led many to believe that when the new year arrived, our computers might reset and go from 1999 to 1900. That, theoretically, could have led to all sorts of issues for companies and utilities that had computers set up with automatic prompts.
Most experts didn’t think it was going to cause the widespread problems that had been reported as “possible,” but it was one of those stories that gained strange legs with each passing day, especially early on when we first learned of this calendar glitch.
Still, for all the common sense we tried to employ to reassure ourselves all would be fine, the seed had been planted and it was difficult to resist the temptation that something could happen. We didn’t know what might manifest. Fear of the unknown is powerful.
That same anxiety, on a smaller scale, has taken root this year as we prepare for the conclusion of a contentious and highly divided election cycle, not so much with local and state races, but certainly at the federal level.
If Biden wins, will there be widespread rioting by Trumpers who may believe the election was rigged, their Constitutional rights will be trampled and huge tax increases are on the horizon?
If Trump wins, will Biden’s army of followers fill the streets with anger, pointing to another four years of Trumpian moments and tweets, tax breaks for the wealthy, social program cuts and environmental assaults?
Like Y2K, it is likely much ado about nothing. But some of what happens could be quelled by both candidates in these waning days before the election with some leadership, well-placed comments about respecting our democracy and the process, and perhaps most importantly, by noting that while we have a two-party system, it is the responsibility of every elected official to represent all people, not a specific party.
Failure to adequately communicate confidence in our system to citizens is like seeing a pinhole in your radiator and doing nothing to fix it. It will lead to no good.
Every individual who casts a ballot in this election does so believing they have a voice, influence and a small amount of control in what happens with our country. To dismiss those voting efforts by suggesting the system is rigged or that there is rampant fraud is a failure to embrace and support our representative form of government. And it is an insult to every voter.
In a world where social media needs only a spark to ignite widespread fear and anger, there is a responsibility by our leaders, and each of us, to exercise good judgment and to protect what we all enjoy as Americans.
Imagine how Y2K misinformation could have proliferated had social media been in the hands of the world as it is today.
The message, as well as how and who delivers it, does matter.
Our new Y2K is just days away. Riots, anger and destruction of property hopefully will not materialize, but it would not be a productive way to respond if your candidate loses. Let’s all make sure we protect our country and our democracy by displaying respect for each other and the process.
Anything less is a failure to appreciate just how fortunate we are to be living in a country where the choices made by every voter still matter.
Keith Anderson is director of news for APG of East Central Minnesota