Tuesday night, for the first time since I was a teenager, I went to bed before a presidential race was called and without hearing the expected speeches of concession and victory. By the time I slid beneath the covers, the outcome was all but certain, awaiting only the final stamp of approval from the pollsters, most of whom were already hard at work framing excuses for their monumental failure to accurately project the grizzled anger of the country.
A political junkie for most of my life, I have spent untold hours reading about issues and listening to the candidates and pundits examine them. I have loved the inside stories, the inner workings, the gossip and the strategy of campaigns. Canadian by birth, I saw myself as an outsider looking in (as I chronicled in a recent post), until I became a naturalized citizen in 1965.
I first voted in a presidential election in 1968 and this year marks my thirteenth presidential vote; I cast winning ballots six times and losing ballots seven times. In only one case did I ultimately regret my choice and in no case did I believe that the candidate I opposed would either destroy Western civilization or promote the killing of puppies. Peaceful transitions were made; we licked our wounds and waited for the next cycle.
I approached this election much the same way but quickly began to see that we were in for a slog--an election cycle that began to imitate life itself, interminable debates between insufferable candidates, a 24/7 media frenzy that sopped up anything that would fill airtime, and a new low in civility that should alarm anyone concerned with the political process.
We ended up with two deeply flawed candidates. One was fighting a historically symbolic battle with a sterling resume but with accusations of corruption that cost her the trust of the electorate. The other was the consummate outsider, flaunting traditional values, brutal in his characterization of others, paying his own way from his vast personal resources, and promising change with nothing to offer by way of policy or program except "trust me."
For me, the choice was clear. My abhorrence of one candidate's appeal to the dark underbelly of our country--racism, bigotry, misogyny, and many others--was more than sufficient to nullify my disappointment in the other's mishandling of emails and a questionable interplay between fund-raising and political access.
An ignorance of critical foreign policy issues and a cavalier attitude toward nuclear weapons left me deeply concerned about global stability. I had never experienced an election that featured a candidate so frightening to me and so dangerous for the world. I took solace in believing in my heart and thinking in my head that he could never be elected.
I wrote the previous two paragraphs not to stir emotions or rekindle the political firestorm, but only to explain the depth of feelings that prompt these reflections. I do understand that people of goodwill were deeply committed to the other candidate. I wish it was possible for both sides to engage in a dialogue that might not change minds but would at least help us to understand each other. That seems a bit elusive at the moment, but perhaps it will come another day.
There was a lot to listen to and learn, but my body was rebelling. I couldn't deflect the fist that kept pounding me in the gut every time the networks announced they had a new projection. And my Parkinson's Disease, which usually behaves when I take my pills, announced it was going to have its way with me this night. It doesn't play well with stress, and it had apparently discerned that I was experiencing a fair measure of that. So here came the tremors and dyskinesia and other annoyances. I wasn't about to let the specter of this frightening moment in history invade my nervous system. I went to bed and slept soundly.
When I awoke, I first reached over to my iPhone to make sure it wasn't just a bad dream. Alas, no. Then I realized I had been processing ideas during the night because new thoughts were swirling within me. The most prevalent one was personal defiance. It went something like this:
"You know what? I'm 69 years old and I don't have to take this. If this is the kind of country you people want, go for it. I've got hundreds of books in my library that I would love to read, while sipping good coffee. I can watch basebalI, which imitates life better than almost anything. I don't know much about music, but I enjoy the haunting beat and unruly experimentation of great jazz. With a few clicks of a key, I can bring the world's finest movies into my living room. I can turn off the news, quit watching Rachel and skip the New York Times daily update. Let the victors reap the spoils and be damned."
As of this moment, that is still sounding like a pretty good plan, But this incessant voice keeps muttering from deep down inside me. It first came in the night and stirred me awake with inelegant phrasings and incomplete sentences. Stuff like this:
-- "pretty cute granddaughters you've got there, Grant"
-- "be gracious, give him a chance to succeed"
-- "in Missouri, if you don't like today's weather just wait until tomorrow"
-- "all persons are of inestimable worth in the sight of God"
-- "first the Royals, then the Cubs...see, hope can never die"
-- "that peace and justice thing you've talked about all these years--do you really buy into that?"
-- "about those blog posts you put up over the last ten years -- did you believe that stuff?"
-- "you're not so old -- sounds like an excuse"
-- "dream big dreams"
-- "pretty smart granddaughters you've got there, Grant"
I turn in my bed and stare at the ceiling. I am angry and hurt and frightened. Then I hear those soft voices again, over and over, still quiet, but unrelenting.
The sun sneaks through the slats in the blind and begins to draw lines of light across the ceiling. I get up and go get my pills.
It is the dawn of a new day.