Election Eve: Let’s be reasonable

Granted: I, of all people, am the worst positioned person at all to tell anyone about not being anxious. If there’s something going wrong, I worry about it. If nothing’s going wrong, I worry about that. If I can’t find anything going wrong, I’ll make one up. It’s what I do. I come from a long line of worriers, and I’m rather proud to say that we’ve perfected that art.

However, I’ve noticed lately some people giving my mother and I a run for our title as consummate worriers of all time. Democrats worry, as Democrats do. It’s sort of our thing. We are famous for being timid. Triangulating. Nervous about taking a stand until we know that it’s the safe move to make. And up to a point, that’s smart – a big part of politics is counting, after all. But the other big part is timing, and if you spend all your time counting, you can miss your moment.

America’s early elections were, quite frankly, shitshows compared to what we see today. Open to only white men and dirty by today’s standards, they’d make even Roger Stone blush. We’ve come a long way, baby. It’s good to keep history in mind. Perspective!

Republicans, on the other hands, don’t harbor so much existential angst. No matter what headwinds they face, they blow right back with just as much bluster. It doesn’t matter what reality is, they create their own and invest in it with all their might.

And that’s how it’s going as we head into this election. Just about every Democrat I know is sick with anxiety tonight, while Republicans are holding sick-a-thons with the spreader-in-chief. But actually? I’m feeling OK. And I’ll tell you why in a moment.

But first, a poem:

‘Twas the night before Election Day and all through the land
Hardly a person was feeling good – not a child, woman or man.
The polls had be read, re-read and discussed at great length
The candidates dissected, all their weaknesses and strengths.
The Democrats lay awake unable to sleep in their beds,
as visions of doom replayed in a loop in their heads.
Trumphumpers, instead, gathered in their masses
Not wearing their masks and behaving like asses.
That left only me, neither worried nor rallying
But confident that soon all the votes would be tallying.
It’s true, the calls to disturb the election with violence are troubling,
And I don’t like the thought of a violent uprising bubbling.
But I have been reading the signs and I like all the portents
And to expect good news – I just think it makes more sense.
So worry if you must, and stay up all night fearing
But I’m willing to bet that soon we’ll be cheering.
So to the good-hearted, the just, the exhausted, the ones dying of fright –
Be of good cheer and look forward to election night!

We’ve been here before – or have we?

The thinking goes like this. We’re right back where we were four years ago. Donald Trump is facing off against yet another Democratic candidate who somehow doesn’t measure up to what some people think a candidate should be: not charismatic enough, not young enough, not left enough – what have you. The nation is somehow even more divided than it was four years ago. The basket that was half full of deplorables in 2016 seems to be overflowing now, and all the dastardly deeds of Trump that existed only in theory have by now come to pass, or have at least been foreshadowed.

But that’s not the whole story, not by a longshot. There are so many reasons not to get caught up in the gloom.

Black men registering to vote in Macon, Ga., in 1867. They would soon lose that right again. Women (mostly white women, depending on location) would only get the right to vote in 1920, and the universal right to vote would only become the law of the land in 1965. If 2020 seems harrowing, remember: we’ve been through a lot before just to get where we are today.
  1. Many of the votes are already in. Because of COVID concerns, early and absentee voting has been emphasized this election cycle. As a result, nearly 95 million votes have already been cast this election. That is 68 percent of the total number of people who voted in 2016. TOTAL. Some states, including Texas and Hawaii, have already fielded more absentee and early ballots than they recorded in all of 2016. Georgia and Florida have hit the 90 percent mark. And it’s not just that – consider who is voting early. Democrats have been emphasizing early voting. Republicans have told their people to vote on Election Day. Then, there’s this: “In the 20 states that report the party registration of early voters, the elections project found that 45 percent of those who have voted early are registered Democrats, 30 percent are Republicans and 24 percent list no party affiliation.” If you’re a Democrat, I challenge you to feel bad about that.
  2. The polls are looking favorable for Biden. Hush! I hear you, I hear you. “But 2016, the polls were wrong.” Well, no. The polls were, by and large, right. But the problem was, most of the polls had Clinton winning within the margin of error. In other words, they had her winning, but not by much, and with not enough certainty to make a Trump victory unlikely. That has understandably made Democrats incredibly wary of polls this time around. But take a look. The polls this time have a wider spread between Trump and Biden. The national spread is about 8.4 percent, outside the margin of error, and fivethirtyeight.com has Biden at 90 percent chance of winning. “But it’s not a national election, it’s 50 state elections.” True! So look at them: Michigan – 95 percent chance to go to Biden; Wisconsin – 94 percent chance for Biden; Pennsylvania – 85 percent chance for Biden; Florida – 70 percent chance for Biden; North Carolina – 65 percent chance for Biden; Georgia – 59 percent. It’s not the Democrats who should be worrying tonight.
  3. When all else fails, look at how the candidates and their teams are behaving. I recall that a year ago on the day before Election Day, Clinton cancelled an order to have a fireworks at the Javits Center. It was one more way I knew we were in for a disaster. This year, it’s Trump who is telegraphing he’s a loser. He’s pledging to declare a premature victory when everyone knows the result won’t yet be known. He’s already said he plans to challenge the result (which means he expects to lose). He already is telling people how embarrassed he will be to lose to Biden and how he “might leave the country.” These are not the actions of a candidate who feels he will win. Biden, on the other hand, has been meeting with epidemiologists and mapping a way out of the pandemic. You tell me who believes he will win the election.

Breathe

I don’t mean to minimize the very real anxiety of this time. I understand it better than you might know. Four years ago, I was knocking on doors the entire week before the election, doing hundreds of doors a day to get out the vote. I walked so much my feet were fucked up for three years after that – I wore ankle braces on and off for three years after that, but I did it because I knew the election mattered that much. I was stationed in Muskegon County, a lakeside area in Michigan that has a small, Democrat-heavy city surrounded by the red-neckiest territory you’d ever want to see. And believe me, being out in those areas told me all I needed to know about how that election night was going to go down. And even though I saw it coming, it was brutal.

Election night 2016, for me, will always be something felt as much as remembered: the tightness in the gut, the spinning in my head, the dryness in my mouth. I remember my state House candidate – who I had been volunteering for – crying on my shoulder. It wasn’t herself she was crying for, though she had also lost her election. It was her children. Her state. Her country. Another campaign worker and I looked at each other across our laptops and quietly discussed whether now was the time to seriously look into Israel’s right of return law, because we knew what America was in store for. I broke down and had a cigarette with the field director even though I’d quit smoking eight years earlier, because – why not? Isn’t that what people did before firing squads, anyway? It certainly felt like everything we believed in was being executed.

Norman Rockwell captured classic Americana, such as these scenes of voting in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. But this was 1943, and in many (if not most) parts of the country, Black people still couldn’t vote. When you hear “Make America great again,” remember: some people are still waiting for it to BE great.

Honestly, I tell you this: I feel none of that this time. I’m not just saying this to make people feel better. I don’t feel glibly confident, either. I do have some anxiety – I want it all to be over with. But I think the evidence is encouraging.

Look at it this way. Don’t we want to be the party that believes in science? Isn’t that one thing we say distinguishes us? So how dare we fall prey to superstition and magical thinking just because we are nervous and afraid?

Look at the facts instead. The early voting numbers are good. The polling is good. The behavior of the candidates suggests they know who has the advantage and who does not. It’s OK to not be worried all the time. I can’t friggin’ believe I’m saying that, but here I am.

Now. What happens AFTER the election? That’s an entirely different matter.

One thought on “Election Eve: Let’s be reasonable

  1. This post gives me (cautious) hope. My gut reaction is still “defensive pessimism” as I don’t want to be blindsided again as I was in 2016, but…I’m feeling a little better.

    I’m especially heartened to learn that Biden is already talking to epidemiologists.

    Like

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