Elec­tions al­most never work out pre­cisely the way I want them to.

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - Richard Ford

Now may not be the ideal mo­ment for a Eu­ro­pean to try to un­der­stand Amer­ica’s woe­ful po­lit­i­cal plight, and its fore­shad­ow­ing of a pos­si­bly dis­mal fu­ture for Amer­i­cans and oth­ers. Although, you could also ar­gue it’s the best time.

It’s just that the cur­rent “Amer­i­can mo­ment” is not so eas­ily read by am­a­teur Eu­ro­pean Amer­ica watch­ers who wring their damp hands, in be­tween writ­ing me insin­cere (and ir­ri­tat­ing) emails about how shocked and dis­mayed they are to have their “long-stand­ing faith in Amer­ica” jan­gled by Don­ald Trump and his stingy, mean-spir­ited ef­forts to make Amer­ica “great” again.

A French friend re­cently wrote that he was ac­tu­ally “pray­ing” for Amer­ica. Re­ally? Who knew he was even re­li­gious? Th­ese peo­ple would do bet­ter to wring their hands and pray over what’s go­ing on in Eu­rope right now, and let us try to re-jig­ger by grad­ual, con­sti­tu­tional means, what’s ad­mit­tedly gone very wrong where we live.

As I, for weeks, con­tem­plated the ad­vent of yes­ter­day’s midterm elec­tions, I sev­eral times re­marked to my wife – and she to me (rather fore­bod­ingly) – that with this elec­tion’s re­sults we’d “learn some­thing im­por­tant about our coun­try”.

What we meant was that we’d soon be learn­ing if Amer­ica is ac­tu­ally be­com­ing a gen­uinely aw­ful place; a coun­try where a thug­gish one-third of our pop­u­la­tion can hold, by ruth­less, semi-le­gal means, the other two-thirds hostage – a la Nazi Ger­many, 1933 – oc­ca­sion­ing Amer­ica’s fur­ther (prob­a­bly fa­tal) de­cline into bizarre, state-sanc­tioned nas­ti­ness – ie racism, anti-semitism, un­stint­ing cor­po­rate greed, knav­ish dis­re­gard for the poor, the ill, the weak, the dis­ad­van­taged, the world’s frag­ile en­vi­ron­ment, women, chil­dren, im­mi­grants, wildlife and much of the rest of the world that may not be lucky enough to be white, Chris­tian and male.

In other words, if Amer­ica were suc­cumb­ing to the al­ready dark forces in its DNA, but which my wife and I have be­lieved were “bal­anced” by the bet­ter an­gels of tol­er­ance, ci­vil­ity, moder­a­tion, an in­stinct for com­pro­mise, an at-least-re­cent-his­tory-of-in­clu­sion, and a long-re­spected, con­sti­tu­tion­ally-or­dained im­pulse to af­fil­i­ate fruit­fully with the wider world.

Or in even dif­fer­ent blunter terms, was it time now to get the hell out of Amer­ica and leave it to . . . pre­cisely who? We don’t know. And go pre­cisely where? Eu­rope? Great.

What we have ac­tu­ally learned from the elec­tion (and I’m writ­ing this in the wee hours of Novem­ber 7th, be­fore I’ve had the “ad­van­tage” of hear­ing the pres­i­dent’s and the news me­dia’s fresh take on things) – what we’ve ac­tu­ally re-learned – is that Amer­i­can democ­racy is in­nately grad­ual, clumsy, some­what cor­rupted, re­ac­tive but not-quite-un­re­spon­sive, pe­ri­od­i­cally nu­anced, ex­tremely near-sighted but not com­pletely blind, al­most pho­bic about his­tory, hard-of-hear­ing but not to­tally deaf to its cit­i­zens and of course money-mad.

And yet it’s not as bad al­to­gether, or as clue­less about the fu­ture, as it might be said to be by peo­ple who have a stake in pre­tend­ing they know – again, the pres­i­dent, along with the news-gath­er­ing (and news-mak­ing) or­gan­i­sa­tions who never seem to shut up.

Amer­ica is most as­suredly in at least gov­ern­men­tal de­cline (I’m not qual­i­fied to com­ment about mo­ral de­cline). And its pu­ta­tive role as a source of hope for the rest of the world def­i­nitely seems to share in that de­cline. But once again, what have you got that’s bet­ter? Unan­swered prayers.

Mixed. The re­sult of the Amer­i­can 2018 midterm elec­tions was de­cid­edly mixed. Also murky. Pos­si­bly gar­bled. Not the worst. But not what I wanted. Elec­tions al­most never work out pre­cisely how I want them to.

On elec­tion day af­ter­noon, I found my­self wan­der­ing around in­side Costco. Costco is one of our gi­gan­tic, any­thing-goes re­tail, sub­ur­ban Godzilla-stores where you buy a cheap mem­ber­ship then shop for . . . well . . . any­thing: French wine. LG TVs. Emer­gency gen­er­a­tors. Mo­bile phones. Bi­fo­cals. Buck­ets of na­cho cheese. At-home test kits for colon can­cer and gold-fish sup­plies.

Ev­ery other cus­tomer I passed, as I pushed my enor­mous wire cart through the aisles, seemed to be wear­ing ei­ther a red TRUMP trac­tor cap or a “Make Amer­ica Great Again” hoody. I ex­pe­ri­enced an eerie sen­sa­tion that were I sud­denly to shout “Trump sucks, You’re all a bunch of f***ing liars and id­iots” I’d have been swarmed, blud­geoned to si­lence and left for dead by my fel­low Amer­i­cans. (I might’ve been wrong, but it was im­mensely dis­com­fort­ing and iso­lat­ing.)

Just the night be­fore I’d sat in the liv­in­groom of a mid­dle-aged med­i­cal doc­tor, here in Mon­tana, where I oc­ca­sion­ally abide, and lis­tened to this physi­cian – a deeply ed­u­cated, multi-diploma’d Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia grad­u­ate – spout ver­ba­tim and with com­plete ap­proval, a gloat­ing litany of ap­plause lines from Pres­i­dent Trump’s stan­dard stump speech about “drain­ing the swamp”, “im­mi­grant rapists”, “all Mus­lims hate us” and white na­tion­al­ists be­ing per­fectly nice peo­ple.

I had that feel­ing I men­tioned a mo­ment ago – of Amer­ica be­com­ing a dan­ger­ous, god-aw­ful place, where I was trapped but too old to leave, and nowhere to go even if I did leave.

And yet. Next morn­ing – this morn­ing – Novem­ber 7th, the day af­ter the elec­tion, I woke to find that Democrats had re­taken con­trol of the United States House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. My cho­sen Demo­cratic can­di­date for gover­nor of con­ser­va­tive Maine had won an un­ex­pect­edly handy vic­tory, as had my can­di­date for US Se­nate in very con­ser­va­tive Mon­tana.

Mus­lims, Na­tive Amer­i­cans, Na­tive Amer­i­can les­bians, hereto­fore un­like­lies of ev­ery stripe had been elected to Con­gress, to gov­er­nor­ships, to the Se­nate. A lot more than had seemed likely to hap­pen had hap­pened, and was good. Fresh and sud­den gains were reg­is­tered against the Trump, right-wing Repub­li­can on­slaught.

I re­minded my­self that elec­tion day 2016 was only 24 months ago. Al­ready noth­ing was the same as then.

It’s hard to gen­er­alise about or to see all this ac­cu­rately from a dis­tance of 3,000 miles. But if you feel dis­ap­pointed in us for let­ting you down, you need to see how we got to where we got to, then and now. Mixed. Murky. Gar­bled. Yes. But not dead in the wa­ter. Not yet. Which is a qual­ity deep in the genome of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, in spite of self-flat­ter­ing Eu­ro­pean mis­per­cep­tions and croc­o­dile-tear-dis­ap­point­ments in us.

Of course, there was never, ever go­ing to be a great blue wave – or a great red one, no mat­ter what our ridicu­lous, snake-oil-sales­man pres­i­dent prat­tled about. There was not even a gen­uine red wave two short years ago, when Le Grand Or­ange backed his spongy rear end into the oval of­fice.

Then, it was a de­cid­edly murky out­come, as well. His op­po­nent, Mrs Clin­ton, con­ceiv­ably could’ve made a good pres­i­dent, but she was also a pre­pos­ter­ously ter­ri­ble, ill-equipped can­di­date, who prob­a­bly shouldn’t even have been nom­i­nated.

As was lac­er­at­ingly pro­nounced at the time: Trump was the only Repub­li­can can­di­date she had any chance of beat­ing. Ex­cept she was the only Demo­crat he could beat. Which he sorta did, even though he “won” two mil­lion fewer votes than she did, and claimed vic­tory only due to an anachro­nis­tic and not-en­tirely-quaint con­sti­tu­tional relic we call the Elec­toral Col­lege which you don’t want me to try to ex­plain.

It’s far too ar­cane and murky, and de­pends on how Elec­toral Col­lege del­e­gates are al­lo­cated ac­cord­ing to in­di­vid­ual states’ con­gres­sional party make-up, which is it­self de­ter­mined by a ham-handed, but widely-prac­ticed voter-sup­pres­sion scam called ger­ry­man­der­ing, which in part owes its own ex­is­tence to the 50-state, fed­er­ated com­po­si­tion of the United States of Amer­ica per se, whereby in­di­vid­ual states act – as they did in 18th-cen­tury pre-rev­o­lu­tion­ary times – like tiny sep­a­rate coun­tries all to them-

The re­sult of the midterm elec­tions was not what I wanted. Elec­tions al­most never work out pre­cisely how I want them to

selves. Is this con­fus­ing enough? You can add “pon­der­ous” and “de­cep­tive” to my short list of “mixed, murky and gar­bled,” and you wouldn’t be wrong.

But al­to­gether this ma­chin­ery makes for a po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, which – while hardly trans­par­ent or even given to trans­parency – is not eas­ily pushed to the brink of an­ar­chy and rev­o­lu­tion, but rather is given to pon­der­ously right­ing it­self on its own.

Which – hav­ing said this now – I hope doesn’t make me stupid.

I was, it should be said, dead wrong about Trump be­com­ing pres­i­dent. I’m, af­ter all, a nov­el­ist, which means I’m a nat­u­ral op­ti­mist. And, I’m a pa­triot – at least when it comes to that list of civic virtues re­cited above – tol­er­ance, ci­vil­ity, in­clu­sion, etc. And . . . Amer­i­cans aren’t re­ally all that in­ter­ested in gov­ern­ment and will put up with a lot of non­sense just so we can be left alone to go to Costco.

But make no mis­take. Don­ald J Trump and his band of po­lit­i­cal do-bad­ders are a gen­uine men­ace – a men­ace to in­tel­li­gent and in­formed gov­er­nance, a men­ace to jus­tice and equal pro­tec­tion un­der law, a men­ace to our most ba­sic def­i­ni­tions and un­der­stand­ings of what it means to live to­gether sanely and em­path­i­cally – not just as a na­tion – but as hu­man be­ings. And more. And worse.

But an elec­tion such as this one just set­tling into its fi­nal­i­ties is not a bad sign. It’s not the best sign. But it’s far from the worst.

A ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans is start­ing to pay at­ten­tion – as loath as we may be to do so. Who we best are is un­der as­sault and be­ing de­meaned, which is tan­ta­mount to a war in­side our own bound­aries.

And in such a war, I lo­cate my al­le­giance where I know good to be.

maj‘ A or­ity of Amer­i­cans is start­ing to pay at­ten­tion – as loath as we may be to do so. Who we best are is un­der as­sault


Pres­i­dent Trump at the White House on Novem­ber 7th 2018. Repub­li­cans ex­panded their ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate, but lost their ma­jor­ity in the House.

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