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America runs on Dunkin'

I am nauseous writing this. Or, if you’re a grammar Nazi: nauseated.

I don’t usually feel this way but I remember election night four years ago and this is hauntingly familiar. In 2016 I had been a lifelong Republican, at one point a card-carrying, money-donating, Rush Limbaugh-listening Republican. My father was a Republican committeeman in Northeast Philadelphia when I was little. Being Republican in Philadelphia is a little like being a Dallas Cowboys fan in Philadelphia. Sure, they exist, but sparsely; and they are cautiously selective about when to reveal themselves. I distributed flyers and door hangers for Richard Nixon and Arlen Specter. 

Then I grew up and became my own man, a Thinking Man. In 1996 I cringed when the invisible people moving Bob Dole’s mechanical arm (and mouth) dug in their heels on unimportant things like flag burning and vague “family values.” But I voted for Dole anyway.

I voted for W, twice; and yes, I feel vindicated in case you’re wondering! 

I voted for John McCain without hesitation. I think I probably voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 but to be fair that was probably just symbolic and an altogether meaningless gesture.

Then came 2016 and I just couldn’t. The whole thing was surreal, like a fever dream. It was an inside joke that had morphed horribly into an insane game of chicken; literally no one dared to flinch.

That year the Democratic National Convention was held in Philadelphia and my daughter had an internship through The Washington Center, one of only 167 college students selected nationally. (Call the Proud Papa Police on me, see if I care!)  So there was a good chance I would have paid attention anyway, even if the Republicans weren’t on a collision course with Armageddon. So I watched the convention, and honestly it was better than I expected. I saw very little that made me feel like this was a group I couldn’t break bread with.

As Seinfeld would say, “Yadda-yadda, and then I voted for Hillary.”

So at 53 years of age I was forced to abandon objective principles I had held since I could reason independently, and I cast my vote for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time. As I said, I was already sick with worry and anxious about the weight of my decision as the returns filtered in Election Night.

I remember sitting on the sofa with my wife, late into the evening and then early into the morning, waiting for things to turn. But they never did. The longer it went, the closer to final the returns became, the more sure I became that I had made the right decision and too many people had made the wrong one.

And the rest you know.

Since then we came to learn that Hillary lost for a number of explainable reasons. Some she had control over and coulda-shoulda done differently. Some she inherited. Some were clear tactical victories of the Trump campaign. 

And then there was the weird one.

By weird, I mean the one where suburban white people would go out to dinner and to the bars and cocktail parties and whatever else it is we are supposed to do, and they’d talk about Donald Trump and what a clown he was, how ridiculous, and how, oh well, we don’t really like Hillary, we’ve never liked Hillary, but please, we can’t even.

And then so many of those people went into a dark voting booth that first Tuesday in November and they voted for Trump. Because they saw in Hillary and the Democrats, after eight years of Barack Obama, a surging tide of liberalism that cast aspersion and shame on virtually everything we were raised on. The virtues and values that shaped us and defined us were being assaulted on a daily basis. Stupid things like not being able to say “Merry Christmas” to someone. And while most civilized people of any color won’t publicly shove someone away and yell, “Hey back off, you don’t know me!” the dark, quiet anonymity of a voting booth is far different. It’s a safe place to air your doubts. And strike back.

So a lot of people said one thing and voted another, and voila: President Trump. What started off as a crazy joke got un-funny. Really un-funny.

Un-funny to the point where the President of the United States, on national television, in front of millions of people, responded to a call to condemn white supremacists by issuing a rallying cry to a right wing militia organization, which responded immediately via Twitter, acknowledging “Standing by, Sir!”

Un-funny as in, the same president who was investigated for inviting foreign interference with the 2016 presidential election took the opportunity to invite domestic interference with the 2020 presidential election.

Un-funny like a president mocking his opponent for wearing a face mask during a pandemic that’s killed more than 220,000 of our neighbors, and then testing positive for COVID three days later. A president who says we’ve turned the corner and we’re beating the disease even as cases spike again – as doctors predicted would happen if we botched our response.

So basically: not funny.

That was four years ago. Too many people hid their fear and swallowed their frustration and voted with their…vote. So I’ve been thinking lately, and maybe it’s just wishful thinking, what if it happens again – but in reverse?

Check my work.

What if the same white people who believe in God and country aren’t really racists? What if the same people who caved in to their pride and discomfort four years ago have seen their pride eroded and their discomfort escalated by this administration? What if it’s too risky to just sashay over to the other side when you live in a tinder box; but in the still, dark privacy of the booth...what if these same people reclaim their humanity and do the right thing?  

Several articles today are talking about how Trump has basically ruined Republicans’ chances of taking the House and in all likelihood screwed them out of the Senate majority as well. As a lifelong Republican this makes me angry, not because “my” party is losing power but because every Republican in the Senate who bent over for Donald Trump for four years, every one who sold his or her soul, deserves everything they get. And worse.

Look at the pictures of Mitch McConnell’s hands. He’s likely already dead and serving time in Hell, he just hasn’t fully left this plane yet. Bon voyage, mon ami.

And now what? What am I supposed to do? I still lean conservative from a fiscal perspective, but socially I am moderate. And these morons and degenerates have made it impossible for me to support my core beliefs, which are as valid today as they ever were. People have a mental caricature of a Republican today: a mean, old, white, racist dude with too much money and no interest beyond self-interest. Well guess what, people? That’s not me! That’s only 42.8% me.

(Check my math):

  • Mean: No
  • Old: OK
  • White: Guilty as charged
  • Racist: F-off, no way
  • Dude: OK, yeah
  • Too much money: ROFLMAO
  • No interest in others: Negative

That's only 3 out of 7, bitches.

*****

I live in the demilitarized zone. Lifelong “townies” hang Trump banners from telescoping bucket trucks while yuppies puff out their chests for Biden and BLM. One lawn on the main street in my town sits in front of an 80-year-old twin house. Two houses, eight windows, two front doors, two sets of steps…and one lawn. The lawn is littered – literally littered – with a cacophony of conflicting signs. There is no green visible from the grass below the warring Trump and Biden Harris signs.

The lawn is a Petrie dish; or, more accurately, it’s a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke with a roll of Mentos teetering precariously on the rim.

Clearly this doesn’t speak of a possible weakness in the resolve of Trump supporters. It looks more like the waiting room for Armageddon. But I am hopeful.



Yesterday my daughter and I voted. That is to say, we took our mail-in ballots – both envelopes, sealed and signed in black ink – to the official drop-off site. It bears saying that my daughter and I aren’t completely aligned when it comes to politics. She reflects her generation and I, mine. But we have achieved impressive, consistently growing middle ground over the past year or so and I am grateful.

So with a 90-minute window between meetings and less than a week until D-Day I grabbed her and our respective ballot envelopes and made a mad dash to the closest official drop-off location. It happened to be in Norristown, the county seat of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Norristown is an armpit, geographically speaking. I say that as a realist, not a racist.

We went screeching into the parking lot where the site was located and reality dawned: We were too early. The site opened at 11:00 and it was just past 10:30 AM. As we stood outside the cargo container that served as a ballot site and de facto office, we had to laugh. Then another woman, white, in her 30’s walked up; mask on face, ballot in hand.

“F*ck!!” she exclaimed.

“Yup, opens at eleven,” I offered.

Her shoulders slumped. “Jeez, I had a half hour between Zoom calls. I thought I could squeeze this in.”

The three of us chuckled and my daughter and I drove to Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee. Dunkin’ is on the main drag, a few blocks from the courthouse on a corner with a parking lot. In the lot were small clusters of workers. They looked like workers: They were black and/or brown, dressed in clothes that a construction or maintenance worker would wear, and almost all of them were wearing masks or face coverings. Sure sign they have been out among the general population, working diligently during the pandemic. Probably they are grateful for the opportunity.

Inside, my daughter and I were the only white faces behind our masks. I didn’t feel threatened or uncomfortable or unwelcome. We stood behind an elderly woman with a walker, there to get tea and a donut.

As we waited for our coffees the elderly woman started slowly toward the heavy glass door. Simultaneously, my daughter and a very tall, appropriately masked black man in his 30s or 40s lunged at the door to open it for her, full-on colliding with each other. The remnant of my Republican lizard-brain went instantly on high alert, ready to intervene and “save” my daughter.

But of course that wasn’t necessary. The two of them laughed their asses off, apologized profusely and BOTH held the door open for the woman and her walker. At which point the original “F*CK!” woman walked in the open door, looked at us and said, “I canceled my 11:00 call. This is too important.”

*****

Back at the location the workers, a uniformed black man and woman, opened the site almost 10 minutes early – because this IS important, and a loose, amorphous line had started to form. A young Hispanic man who looked like he might have been a drug addict, homeless, or both, clutched his ballot envelope as he stepped back respectfully to let a very old, unsteady white woman in front of him in line. She had just come from the passenger seat of her car, where her husband kept both hands on the wheel and stared straight ahead. Maybe he had mailed in his ballot. Maybe they are a mixed marriage.

We got in line and minutes later were on our way home, sipping our coffee and feeling generally upbeat about things. Which, as you probably agree, is a rare occurrence these days.

If this sounds like a hopelessly saccharine, improbable contemporary music video of the Beatles’ Penny Lane, I assure you it was anything but that. It was life in these United States, circa 2020, when there seems to be no bottom to the abyss but you can still find ledges and footholds to cling to. And occasionally, someone – including the people you think are least likely – will reach out and offer you a hand.

So, yeah. I am flat-out afraid to be even the least bit optimistic. I feel like that is an unsafe strategy. But I dare to be hopeful.

I dare to be hopeful.

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