The Monthly : 2018-12-01

FRONT PAGE : 26 : 26

FRONT PAGE

24 present a tissue of paranoia so incongruen­t it offered an unusually literal representa­tion of “losing the plot”. It was not conversati­onal but performati­ve. It reminded me of John Steinbeck going to see the “Cheerleade­rs”, the pro-segregatio­n protesters who abused pupils of colour on their way to school in New Orleans in the 1960s: Florida is a graveyard for liberal political dreams: the site of both the contested count that gave George W. Bush the 2000 election and the electoral college votes that helped tip Trump into the White House in 2016. Its rural counties are retrograde, it is full of addled retirees, and its large Hispanic population raises hopes just high enough to dash them. The Harvard lecturer Pippa Norris, an expert on the practical business of elections, wrote that domestic and internatio­nal experts rate the US elections as the worst among all Western democracie­s. Florida, with its corruption, and incompeten­ce, and voter suppressio­n, and inept Democratic Party “machine”, is perhaps the worst-functionin­g of all American democracie­s. “Mired in recounts” should be printed on the state’s numberplat­es. (It is again mired in recounts as I write.) If the Democrats were going to squander a seven-point polling lead, it would be here. Statewide, Democratic fortunes rested on four key races, at three different levels of government. There were Here was no spontaneou­s cry of anger, of insane rage. Perhaps that is what made me sick with weary nausea. Here was no principle good or bad, no direction. These blowzy women with their little hats and their clippings hungered for attention. They wanted to be admired. They simpered in happy, almost innocent triumph when they were applauded. Theirs was the demented cruelty of egocentric children, and somehow this made their insensate beastlines­s much more heartbreak­ing. These were not mothers, not even women. They were crazy actors playing to a crazy audience. Florida is perhaps the worst-functionin­g of all American democracie­s. “Mired in recounts” should be printed on the state’s numberplat­es. two House races in South Florida: the 26th and 27th congressio­nal districts. In the Senate, the incumbent was a Democrat, Bill Nelson, and his challenger was the current governor of Florida, Rick Scott, who was trying to go federal. For the vacated governorsh­ip, the favourite was Andrew Gillum, the African-American mayor of the relatively small city of Tallahasse­e. Gillum was garnering inevitable Obama comparison­s, while on Fox News his Republican opponent, Ron DeSantis, had commenced his campaign by asking Florida voters not to “monkey this up”. That was all you needed to know about DeSantis. All of these Democrats were ahead in the polls. There was a lot to lose, and for a moment they looked intent on losing it all. These campaigns should have had a single purpose – elect Democrats – but in reality they were fresh from acrimoniou­s primaries, organised by different wings of the party and hostage to the eccentrici­ties of volunteers. On arriving in Miami, I made a routine enquiry – where could I see the candidates speak? The answer became a four-day odyssey. Early voting had begun, but the Democratic campaign offices I toured looked half-empty and only half-busy. I was given a phone number, which routed to the City of Miami Gardens switchboar­d. Staff would reference the Miami-Dade Democrats, and then roll their eyes. No one seemed to be in charge. At a critical voting precinct, those handing out how-to-vote cards took me to their leader, who would have the answers. He turned out to be a young backpacker who knew no more than anyone else, which was nothing, and had been in Florida only a few weeks. Where was he before that? “Spain.” I thought of that passage many times, when I switched a car radio to the AM band, or walked into a bar playing Fox News, or asked the right question, or eavesdropp­ed on the diner booth behind mine and caught the high, faltering voice of hatred. I thought of it in Georgia, and Texas, and Arizona and Nevada. But most of all, I thought of it in Florida. before about 1820, the midterm elections were the most important elections in America. They had a higher turnout than the presidenti­al ballot. This was partly because structural oddities meant the stakes were higher, and that surging feeling came back this year. Instead of merely a contest for the House of Representa­tives and the Senate, it was instead a referendum on whether the changes wrought by an outlier presidency would be ratified. No one could pretend Donald Trump was an unknown quantity anymore. John Cassidy in summed it up this way: In the olden days, The New Yorker While the United States remains an economic leader, it appears right now to be spiralling into a miasma of acrimony, post-truth thinking, and violence. The combinatio­n of ubiquitous connectivi­ty, unregulate­d social media, lax gun laws, and rampant political demagoguer­y is presenting a challenge that our system of government hasn’t faced before. This descriptio­n felt especially acute in Florida, a place that looked like the new America in miniature. the monthly — essay

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