I don’t know about you, but late last week I hit the wall about the midterm election: the swirl of attack ads, the endless urgent fund appeal emails, the feverish palaver about polls. Not to mention the shocks of the Khashoggi assassination, the mail bombs, and the massacre in Pittsburgh. When the funerals there were basically crashed by the uninvited ghoul, my internal needle bounced into the red “zone marked “Overload.”
I’m not dropping out: already voted (first day of early voting); urged all & sundry to do likewise; sent several hundred dollars to a list of pleading, promising candidates. And I’ve been reading & listening to the nonstop chatter & prognosticating.
Then finally it became too much. It was driving me nuts. Had to get away.
But where? In every direction, there was TNT (Trauma & Triggering). I didn’t even need a screen to see it: Memories crowded in like visual earworms.
The most vividly ominous were from a road trip in late October, 2016: Philadelphia back to Durham. Leaving the interstate in western Maryland, I turned onto US15, which drops almost straight south across Virginia, 240 miles of farmland and hillocks and small towns, before veering southwest and passing through Durham about a mile from my place.
Before long, I started seeing Trump signs. Big ones, that people spent good money for and put time into erecting. By the time I hit the North Carolina line, I had tallied well over a hundred & lost count. Oh—plus two each for Hillary and Gary Johnson.
At the time, I had swallowed the conventional wisdom: yard signs meant nothing, the wise people said, Hillary has this in the bag, etc.
My head “believed” it. But as US15 unrolled through hills and fields, that secondhand conviction settled in my belly like a growing lump of lead. I still clung to the wise people’s assurances, but my gut lost all conviction. Election night, I stayed up til near dawn, hoping it was a nighttime hallucination; Hillary did carry Virginia, just barely. But the gut turned out to right.
Surveying the rubble in the bleak post-election dawn, I realized that my loss was a double one: not only had Hillary’s campaign crashed and burned, but nearby was another smoking pile of debris: that of the plane carrying all, or almost all, of the wise people. Not just the partisan flacks, but the “independent” pollsters & most “analysts,” including many who were officially “conservative.”
Despite their deep ideological differences, they had long since forged a confident consensus that what had just happened simply couldn’t happen. And I, posing as a worldly-wise semi-sophisticated reader, had stifled my misgivings and accepted it. I did get fooled again, and was now left with neither a political success nor the mechanism I had leaned on to make sense of this campaign turned catastrophe.
The wise people survived, and should have resigned in shame and be pursuing rehab driving for Uber and learning HVAC at community college. Instead they crawled from the wreckage, dusted themselves off, checked their Twitter feeds and went back to “work.” Nowadays they pretend to be chastened, more guarded, though the Democrats among them are already certain that their blue wave is about to crest. For me, the specter of their epic 2016 collapse is still very real.
With effort, I managed to push this 2016 flashback to one side. But it did no good to stop listening to this season’s incessant chatter. I still knew, could almost hear, a giant invisible clock ticking down to D-Day, with seemingly endless days of it still to go.
I tried distraction: a birthday lunch with the Fair Wendy. A stroll to the park with my grandson, granddaughter, great granddaughter & Sassy the dog.
That was good, but it was still shadowed: look at them: all except Sassy would someday qualify for Social Security, Medicare, and one was already eligible for Medicaid. But would it be there?
And what about the rush of climate change? They’ve been through two hurricanes this year; all lucky this time. Next year?
By nightfall, they had headed home. Wendy went off to an architect’s meeting. I felt tired: ready to sleep — sleep! Probably the best way to muffle the ticking of that damn clock, foreshorten the wait.
So I went to bed.
Actually, I went to bed three times.
Didn’t work. I got back up three times. Read several chapters of a biography of the French writer Colette. (Once, her sexual adventurism seemed daringly “transgressive”; but now, she’d likely be atop both the #MeToo and #HimToo target lists, with a D. A. on the trail.) Not exactly a cure for insomnia.
On further thought, I began to have doubts about the whole scenario the wise people were now serving up: come November 6, or the morning after, it will all be over.
Really? The more the clock ticked through that night, the more doubtful I became.
Consider: the word on the street is that a big cabinet shuffle will quickly follow the closing of the polls, aimed above all at derailing the various probes by one Robert Mueller, a confrontation typically mentioned in the same sentence as “constitutional crisis.” And how many new indictment bombshells can Mueller drop even as they’re trying to push him out the door?
Or what about the budget showdown that looms in early December? You know— the Wall versus the caravans. And speaking of caravans, what if rocks start to fly at the thousands of Army troops? And what if maybe a few bounce off and hit one or more of of the hundreds of vigilante “militia-persons” doing their freelance patrols with their over-the-counter big guns? And as for guns, how many days til the next big mass shooting?
Am I exaggerating, or is this what the last two years have been about: a succession of shocks that shows no real signs of slowing. In which case, on reflection — of which maybe I’m doing too much in these long hours — the election, even if it goes the way I much prefer, is unlikely to really settle things down. There seems an equal chance it may add more fuel to many fires.
See? No wonder I can’t sleep.