My post-election reflection

anemones

I’ve been struggling to sort through my feelings and articulate just why I am still so upset by the results of the presidential election. I’m not yet trying to think through what we might be in for, come January, with President Trump. I have no interest in “not my president” protests, and only limited curiosity about possible cabinet appointments.

For me at this moment it’s not so much about Trump. It’s about what the election revealed about my country. It’s the fact that 60 million Americans voted for someone who repeatedly and openly denigrated African-Americans, Muslims, Mexicans, the disabled, women. Sixty million Americans put their (often nebulous) desire for “change” above basic human decency.

I know there are white supremacists, gun nuts and simple-minded bigots out there who were always going to vote for Trump. I understand there are voters in Appalachia who hoped Trump would prevent the lightbulb factory where they work from moving to Mexico. I guess, when your livelihood is at stake, you can overlook quite a lot. But 60 million people???

Analysis of voting patterns in Germany’s most recent election shows that the far right, anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland was most successful in areas that have very few immigrants or refugees. That suggests it’s easier to hate and fear the Other and easier to overlook abuse of the Other if it’s an abstraction, not tempered by your own daily experience. Indeed, there are few immigrants, refugees or African-Americans in Wyoming, where Trump scored highest, with 70% of the vote.

But what about women – half the population in every state, every town, every rural township in the nation? In the case of women, we must conclude that familiarity breeds contempt, and contempt is what I take away from this presidential election. Given the choice between a superbly qualified woman and a lying bully, 60 million people chose the bully. Throughout the campaign, the public was quick to accept the suggestion that Clinton’s missteps were character flaws and just as quick to dismiss Trump’s character flaws, his indecency, as missteps. Boys will be boys. That’s a double standard. And if it’s not sexist, then let me just say that it looks uncomfortably familiar to many accomplished women.

During the campaign, one of my kids said to me, “If you vote for Hillary just because she’s a woman, isn’t that sexist?” All other things being equal, yes. But all other things aren’t equal, and they never have been.

Election Diary 8: The Bitter End

The last 36 hours have been an emotional roller coaster. It’s going to take a while to process my feelings and thoughts about the election and its outcome, but I feel compelled to write something now, while it’s fresh, because so many friends from around the neighborhood and around the world have contacted me with their reactions. Here’s the last chapter of my 2016 election diary:

poll-watcher

I woke up a little before 6:00 yesterday morning, shoveled down some breakfast, bundled up against the cold weather, and drove with Eric to take my place as a poll watcher and greeter for the Democrats in nearby Ridley Township. The polling place was a community center in a neighborhood I’d canvassed a couple of weeks earlier – a solidly Republican area with lots of Trump supporters. We arrived just before the polls opened at 7:00, and there was already a crowd of people waiting in line to vote before heading off to work. The Republicans had studded the strip of grass along the street with their campaign signs. Eric added ours to the collection, while I went inside to introduce myself to the Judge of Elections.

The political parties are permitted to appoint poll watchers to keep an eye on the proceedings, making sure, for example, that no one is “politicking” or otherwise trying to influence or intimidate voters within 10 feet of the entrance to the polling place. What, exactly, is the entrance? Well, that’s up to the Judge of Elections to determine. The Judge of Elections is a local political appointee who spends the day supervising the polling and then reports the results. In this case, it was an elderly gentleman from the neighborhood named Sam.

It was apparent when we arrived that this particular polling place had never (in recent memory, at least) had a Democrat show up to watch the polls and greet voters. There were a couple of Republicans – older men, one with a red Make America Great Again cap – holding the doors to the building open and handing out campaign literature. Inside, one of the township commissioners was glad-handing and actually standing next to his constituents as they signed in. Clearly illegal, but perhaps more a case of no one ever seeing a need to enforce the rules, rather than a conscious effort to break them. I introduced myself to the commissioner, engaged him in a friendly conversation, and maneuvered him outside, where he continued shaking hands and chatting with voters in the parking lot.

I spent most of the day on the steps of that community center, greeting voters and offering them a Democratic sample ballot. In addition to Eric, other friends and neighbors from Swarthmore came by for a couple of hours to keep me company or allow me to take a break.

The crowd of voters thinned as the workday started, and we passed the time with small talk. Mr. Make America Great Again was a retiree named Butch. His partner was a laid-off Boeing employee named Sam. Both nice guys. Later in the morning, they were joined by the District Attorney for Delaware County and his wife, who seemed to know just about everybody who came to vote. At some point, a local member of the American Libertarian Party showed up for a couple of hours to pass out sample ballots with a red-white-and-blue porcupine on them.

The Republicans carried on extensive conversations with friends and neighbors. Not being from the neighborhood, my interactions with the voters were more limited. One woman recognized me from my canvassing round, and we had a brief chat. Another offered me a couple of buttons that said “Republican for Hillary”. At one point, a man took me aside and asked, “Can you explain to me how any woman can vote for Trump?” I couldn’t.

In the middle of the day, I took a break and drove back to Swarthmore to cast my vote. Our polling place, in the local elementary school, was more crowded than the one in Ridley, serving Swarthmore College students in addition to local residents. Just as the Republicans dominated Ridley, the Democrats were in the overwhelming majority here, and they seemed to be holding an impromptu block party, handing out pretzels, coffee and even freshly-baked waffles.

i-votedWhen Eric voted, he had taken our daughter Katy into the voting booth with him and let her push the “VOTE” button for him. Moms I met in line were doing the same with their daughters. When I got into the booth myself, I took a moment to gaze at the names on the Democratic ballot – Hillary Clinton, the first woman ever at the top of a major party’s ticket, and a couple of other women I hoped would win legislative seats. I’m not ashamed to admit it was an emotional moment.

The Pennsylvania polls closed at 8:00 p.m., but things in Ridley slowed to a crawl by 7:00. I stood next to the two Sams as Judge-of-Elections Sam opened and recorded absentee ballots. As the voting machines were shut down one by one, I asked to see the numbers for Hillary, Trump and the two candidates for our local Pennsylvania State Representative. Not surprisingly, the Republicans were the clear winners in this precinct, but, when I compared Hillary’s numbers with those lower down on the ticket, it was also apparent that a significant number of Republicans had split the ticket and voted for Hillary.

I gathered up our campaign signs, threw them in the back of my car, and drove home. I’d been looking forward all day to the Democrats’ election party at our local Inn, but by the time we got there, the story that was unfolding on the giant TV screens wasn’t the one I’d expected. Pennsylvania still looked solid early on, but Florida was already lost, and the trend was grim. I couldn’t manage small talk. I ignored people I recognized in the crowd, and the wine tasted bitter. We walked home and joined the kids on the sofa to continue watching the returns. It was going from bad to worse. I went to bed and tossed and turned while the others continued watching TV.

This morning, I woke up to feelings of shock, disappointment, anger, sadness. Hillary Clinton had won the popular vote by about 200,000 votes, but had lost the Electoral College to Donald Trump.

I had to get the kids up and off to school, but it was difficult to look them in the eye, much less carry on a conversation. What to say? Texts and emails from friends told me they were struggling, too.

It’s going to take a while to process both the emotions and the facts surrounding this election, but here are a few points that seem important to me today:

  • More Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump.

    Photo credit: Annie Fox
    Photo credit: Annie Fox
  • Trump’s margin of victory was so slim, that it could be attributed to any number of discreet factors: men who hate women, women who voted for Trump, African-Americans who stayed home, young people who didn’t bother to register, idiots… As with Brexit, I have no doubt that, in the coming weeks, the numbers will be sliced and diced every which way to try to demonstrate just which group of voters played the decisive role. In my mind, everyone who didn’t vote for Hillary shares the blame.
  • There’s been a lot of talk throughout the campaign about the “liberal establishment” not taking seriously the pain and suffering of “Middle America”. But it seems to me this argument ignores the role of demagoguery in Trump’s campaign. The truth is many groups (if you insist on looking at them as groups and not as individuals) have it tough: older white men who’ve lost good blue-collar jobs, but also poor African-Americans, Hispanics, working women, refugees, transgender people, and so on. The Trump campaign actively stoked anger among one of these groups and directed it against the others. (Listen to Terry Gross’s interview with James Fallows for more insights.)

Finally, I’m grateful I was able to volunteer, albeit late in the campaign. It’s a relief to me today to know that I did something, and I like to think it was worthwhile, even if I couldn’t save the day for Hillary. A couple of local candidates I canvassed for made it through tough races into the Pennsylvania state legislature, so that’s a small consolation. More importantly, I got some insight into the political process (the good and the bad) and was overwhelmed by the incredible number and dedication of volunteers who came out in the last days of the campaign to knock on doors and get out the vote. All of this makes me confident that something good will come out of this.

Friends, if you believe that chocolate can't solve anything, please keep that thought to yourself.
Friends, if you believe that chocolate can’t solve anything, please keep that thought to yourself.

 

Election Diary 7: Election Eve

Bill Clinton gave me this button!
Bill Clinton gave me this button!

Monday: Good news on all fronts:

  • The FBI has closed the case on the additional emails that caused a stir last week.
  • The SEPTA strike is over! The public transport system should be back to normal in time for Election Day.
  • The weather forecast looks great for Tuesday. (Yep, that makes a difference!)
  • As I write, crowds are gathering in front of Independence Hall for an election-eve rally with Hillary, Bill and Chelsea Clinton, Barack and Michelle Obama, and Bruce Springsteen!!!

Meanwhile, I’m here in a split-level suburban home, surrounded by forms and clipboards, checking canvassers in and out, listening to their war stories and entering their results into a spreadsheet. There’s a local Democratic organizer named Bill Clinton, and he’s hanging around the place today. (I can tell he enjoys introducing himself to people.)

I thought we were pretty far off the beaten path, but dozens of volunteers have found their way to us today, including 4 hipsters on a day trip from Brooklyn and a couple of young women from Washington.

One of our local volunteers, an older man, told us he recognized one of the names on his list from long ago. “I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning, but this guy’s sister was the first girl I ever kissed, when I was 13 years old!” The brother was hostile, at first, when our man knocked on the door. The canvasser said, “Didn’t you used to live in Upper Darby?”, and they were off down Memory Lane…

The women from Washington had spent the weekend knocking on doors in Northeast Philly – their team of five knocked on 1,000 doors! One of them even persuaded a single-issue, anti-abortion voter to vote for Clinton with the argument that Hillary is the candidate who will reduce abortions – by extending access to contraception, sex education and health care! Woo hoo! The hipsters found the suburban landscape somewhat challenging, but they finished their shift and are on their way to the rally in Philly.

weather

Election Diary 6: The Homestretch

Friday morning: I drive to Berwyn to meet a friend. This is the affluent Main Line suburb where Melania Trump spoke last night. Lawns in Marion’s neighborhood are now bristling with Trump/Pence signs that people took home from the rally. It’s a very prosperous, well-educated area. I don’t understand how Trump’s angry, xenophobic, misogynistic, Democrats-wrecked-my-life message can appeal to people here.

Saturday morning: Anne and I are going to canvas again. This is the final weekend of the campaign, and the get-out-the-vote effort is in high gear. The campaign office in Swarthmore is a hive of activity.

trump-supporterAdding to the excitement, there’s a Trump supporter walking around on the pavement outside, holding up a sign. Make America great again. He seems to be yelling at people occasionally, but mostly he’s just walking around quietly. I ask if I can take his picture, and we get into a conversation. I try to keep it friendly, and the more he talks, the less hostile he becomes. He’s not a bad guy. He admits some of Trump’s remarks have been outrageous, but believes he’ll tone it down once he takes office.

Parked along the street and in the steady stream of cars drifting by are many with out-of-state plates, mostly from Washington, DC, and New York. A couple of drivers roll down their windows and ask where the campaign office is. These are Hillary supporters coming to help with GOTV, alarmed by just how close the race has become in Pennsylvania. Their home states are “safe”, so they hope to have a greater impact by canvassing here.

Out-of-state plates outside campaign HQ. Photo credit: Anne Tallent
Out-of-state plates outside campaign HQ. Photo credit: Anne Tallent

Among the out-of-towners are Anne’s friends Brenda and Vicky from Washington, two highly accomplished scientists and experienced canvassers. They pull up in their Prius and position their Hillary buttons on their jackets. Love Trumps Hate. After two-and-a-half hours in the car, they’re anxious to get to work. We take two canvassing packets, get a quick briefing, and we’re on our way.

Gotta get a picture of that one! Photo credit: Brenda Ekwurzel
Gotta get a picture of that one! Photo credit: Brenda Ekwurzel

So it’s another gorgeous fall day, and here I am, walking around the neighborhood surrounding my kids’ middle school with one of our nation’s top climate scientists. Wow! Canvassing seems to go better this time: more people are at home, and more of them understand and support what we’re doing. Many on our list are young voters; most of them aren’t home, but their parents assure us they have a solid plan to vote.

One lady is new to the neighborhood, but couldn’t be better prepared for Election Day. She’s a graduate of both Wellesley College (Hillary’s alma mater) and the University of Chicago Law School, where she was taught by President Obama! Now and again, however, we get a glimpse into more complicated family situations and divided political leanings.

Saturday afternoon: Following a lunch break at home, I’m back at the canvassing staging location on Chipmunk Lane. My friend Linda needs me to fill in again on Monday, and I need to get a better understanding of how they do things.

Things are buzzing here, too. In addition to the local folks, they have people coming over from nearby Media, where the campaign office had more volunteers than it could use.

Except for one paid organizer, everyone coordinating and participating in this canvassing effort is a volunteer. Some are more effective than others, but Linda is relentlessly positive, thanking people for showing up to help and praising their efforts. It seems chaotic, with canvassers returning from the earlier shift at the same time others arrive for new assignments. Fortunately, the underlying system is pretty straightforward.

Saturday evening: At a neighborhood cocktail party, I talk with an acquaintance in the catering business, and she confirms that voting on a workday will be a real challenge for many people in the city – all the more so thanks to the transit strike. One of her employees is scheduled to work on Tuesday from 6:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. (The polls are open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.) She plans to relieve him for a couple of hours in the middle of the day and lend him her car, so that he can drive to his polling place and vote.

It’s maddening to think that the SEPTA strike could affect the outcome of the election. German friends have often asked me whether the German system of holding elections on Sundays isn’t better than mid-week elections. I’ve always said that everything has its pros and cons, and I could think of some arguments for each approach. Now, in light of the strike, I think we’d absolutely be better off with weekend elections.

"Even if you really like this sign, you should buy one of your own and not steal it."
“Even if you really like this sign, you should buy one of your own and not steal it.”

Election Diary 5: Who keeps stealing my campaign signs?

Tuesday: Aargh! Another two of my lawn signs are missing. A Halloween prank? Later in the day, I realize three magnets have been stolen from the back of my car: a Clinton campaign magnet, but also a “26.2” marathon magnet and a non-partisan Maryland crab. Highly annoying.

Have you seen my car magnet?
Have you seen my car magnet?

Wednesday: SEPTA transit workers are on strike, and large sections of the public transport system in and around Philadelphia are at a standstill. Instead of taking the train and risking getting stranded, Eric and I decide to drive into Center City for an evening event. The traffic is awful. It takes us half an hour just to cover a few blocks.

Thursday: The SEPTA strike is taking a toll on city residents, many of whom now have to walk or cycle to work. Some employers have organized shuttle buses, but they, too, get stuck in the extra-heavy traffic. If it continues, the strike could have a significant effect on voter turnout in Philadelphia. In fact, because turnout in Philly is decisive for Pennsylvania, the SEPTA strike could actually determine the outcome of the presidential election and the balance in the US Senate. Scary!

Meanwhile, Melania Trump is speaking in nearby Berwyn, taking a firm stand against cyberbullying – the very behavior upon which her husband’s political career has been built. #youmustbejoking

Election Diary 4: The Repat branches out

Friday morning: I hop on my bike and cycle to the home of the leader of the local Democrats. I’ve volunteered to be a “poll watcher”, and she’s going to explain to me what it’s all about.

I’ll be at a polling place in a nearby Republican neighborhood on Election Day, greeting voters, asking if they’d like to see a sample Democratic ballot. I’ll also be watching to see that the Republicans don’t receive unfairly favorable treatment – being allowed to station themselves closer than 10 feet from the entrance to the polling area, for example.

It’s unlikely any Trump supporters would try to disrupt voting at this location, since most of the neighborhood is already in his camp. “Take a book to read,” advises Colleen. Most folks will vote before or after work, so I won’t have much to do in the middle of the day.

clipboards

Saturday afternoon: Instead of canvassing, this weekend, I’m filling in for my friend Linda, who has been coordinating the canvassing in a neighboring township. Linda’s territory is just to the west of where I live, slightly further from the city of Philadelphia, mostly Republican. These are suburban neighborhoods with an almost rural feel. The landscape is mostly wooded, houses are far apart.

This part of Pennsylvania was settled by Quaker farmers in the 17th century, so, while many of the housing developments are new, the main roads are old, often narrow and winding. There are no sidewalks. (Indeed, there’s nothing within walking distance.) Canvassers have to drive from house to house.

The staging area for canvassing is in a private home. Donna has turned over the lower level of her house to the Democratic campaign. She’s an avid quilter; every room is filled with handmade quilts. Upstairs, in the kitchen, she provides soup and snacks for campaign workers.

Around 6:00 pm, an African-American woman and her young daughter return from canvassing. They’re followed by a middle-aged man, then, finally, two women, one of whom I know from my non-profit work.

canvassing-packetTheir canvassing packets are just like the ones in my neighborhood, but they also carry a letter explaining that canvassing represents the legal exercise of their constitutional right to free speech.

The previous week, a local resident had called the State Police to complain about people going door to door. The police came and challenged the two older women (although they were not the ones who’d actually caused offense). Pennsylvania is considered so important that, in addition to these folks from the campaign, there are other canvassers out and about, working for various political interest groups.

campaign-lit-2No one wants to knock on doors after dark in this area, so we’re not sending anyone out for the 6:00 pm shift. I grab a cheap “flip phone” and a phone list – one hundred names and numbers throughout Pennsylvania, mostly young people in their twenties. I dial one number after another. Not many people answer the phone on a Saturday evening, but one guy is friendly: “I don’t actually live in Pennsylvania any more. I moved out to Oregon when I graduated from Penn State, and now I’m doing exactly what you’re doing out here!”