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:
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.
When 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.
- 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.