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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The "He's Not My President" Litany



    The country’s exhaustion with the 2016 election hung in the air like a fog when I went to vote at the Firehouse at Aramingo and Belgrade Streets. It was near 10 in the morning but the firehouse was empty. Gone also were the usual sidewalk canvassers who hand out sample ballots. The scene was so quiet I wondered if the firehouse was even still operating as a polling place. Even during boring primary elections, the firehouse had always been alive with activity, but not today.
    I entered the sleepy firehouse and headed to the area where the voting booths are located when a woman appeared out of nowhere and asked if I was here to vote.
    That’s a strange question, I thought to myself.  “Yes, I’m here to vote,” I replied, “I’m not a firefighter.”
   She handed me a sample Republican ballot just as a Democratic operative emerged from the shadows with a sample Clinton ballot. I didn’t inquire why they weren’t outside on the sidewalk meeting and greeting people (it was a beautiful day, after all), or why there weren’t a multiple campaign posters and sample ballots pasted to the firehouse walls. When I got to the registration table, I signed in and voted and when I left I noticed that I was still the only voter in the place.
    After voting, I removed the I Just Voted sticker from my jacket lapel and went about my business. I ran into a few neighbors. Maria from across the street was rushing to vote for Hillary, while Joey, holding his newborn son, announced with pride that he had just voted for Trump. Meeting these neighbors reminded me of the sermon I heard in church the Sunday before about the importance of voting. It wasn’t a partisan sermon, of course, just a friendly reminder of our civic duty.

    Later that day I went into Center City on a work assignment, then met a friend for coffee at a new café, Toast, at 12th and Spruce Streets. Toast is a nice place. It’s quiet and laid back, there’s no loud music so you can hear yourself (and others) talk. Since it was Election Day a wide screen TV had been placed in a central place so that customers could keep abreast of the news. The set channel was MSNBC where talking heads were running commentary on the results of a number of exit polls. Every exit poll gave Hillary a sizeable advantage, so by my second cup of coffee I was pretty much thinking of Hillary as the next president. After all, poll after poll had her ahead, so how could so many experts be wrong?  
    In Toast my friend admitted that he was mad at himself for not registering to vote. He told me that he was beginning to regret not registering because he was feeling the stirrings of political passion. “I’m suddenly feeling the itch to vote but I can’t do anything about it,” he said, shaking his head. I pointed a finger at him and told him he was a heel for not registering. “I know,” he added.  My friends are at least honest if not perfect.   
      I’ve heard people give all sorts of reasons why they don’t vote, the dumbest of which I think goes something like this, “Well, Mickey Mouse and Jack Parr never voted, so why should I?” Singer Joan Baez once told me during an interview that she refuses to vote because it’s all a charade and there’s never a legitimate choice anyway, so why bother. “It’s tiresome and exhausting that we have to go through this show every four years,” she said. While I’ve always loved Joan Baez, I can’t quite figure out this logic although I didn’t tell her this at the time.   
    In the café, people kept coming in and checking the TV screen, eagerly taking note of the exit polls. The exit polls certainly indicated that this would be an election without surprises. When I left the café and headed into the neighborhood again, I checked to see if the firehouse was still empty. There seemed to be a little more activity there, but not much. 
   After dinner, I set up camp in my study and prepared for a long night of election return watching. Almost immediately it became apparent that Hillary Clinton was in trouble. I dismissed this as a temporary glitch but when the trend accelerated I knew the nation was in for a surprise. This election was going to be America’s Brexit. After all, every national poll had Clinton ahead by 3 or 4 points sans the odd polls that had Clinton ahead by one point then Trump ahead by one point. Everyone had assumed that Clinton would win, certainly everyone in Philadelphia where the Clinton vote was so overwhelming even Sherlock Holmes would be hard pressed to find a core group of out and proud Trump supporters. “Philadelphia is in its own bubble,” as I told a friend who was mourning Clinton’s loss the day after Election Day. “Philadelphians were so staunchly pro Clinton the bubble kept them from imagining an alternate political universe.”
     Every news source in the country, from The New York Times on down, indicated that Clinton had it in the bag. A few news sources pointed to a Trump win, as did a large number of psychics and Tarot card readers who predicted a big surprise on Election Day. This surprise, they said, would shock the nation. I dismissed both the pro-Trump Tarot readers and the Clinton-biased mainstream media as drowning in wish fulfillment.  
   When Trump was declared President-Elect, I knew the polls and the media had screwed things up. How could so many professionals have preformed like clueless amateurs?  

      After Trump was declared the winner, protestors started hitting the streets, with many proclaiming that the President-Elect was not their president.
       When I heard this chant I had an attack of déjà vu.
       How many times have I said this to myself during my decades as a voter? And yet here were people in their twenties saying the same thing but for the first time.
   “Richard Nixon is not my President,” I said as an antiwar demonstrator and conscientious objector in 1972.
   “Ronald Reagan is not my President,” I said in 1980 when Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter.
   “Ronald Reagan is still not my President,” I said in 1984, when Reagan defeated Walter Mondale. 
    “George H.W. Bush is not my President,” I said in 1988, when he defeated Michael Dukakis.
     “George Bush Jr. is not my President,” I said both in 2000 and in 2004, but especially in 2000 when the Florida chad recount vote had the nation in turmoil.

   I’ve grown tired of saying this but the scary truth is that the United States is not a total democracy but a Republic. This means that the states cast their votes for President through the Electoral College. This means that very often half of the country is going to get a president they don’t like or agree with. That’s the way it goes in a Republic. It’s like the ups and downs in a marriage when both spouses have to give and take, concede, negotiate, compromise and make sacrifices on behalf of the other. George Bush Jr. may not have been “my” president, but he was still president of the United States, and he still mattered.
  Likewise, President Obama was still the president of all the birther conspiracy theorists and all the “He’s a closet Muslim” fanatics.  
      That’s why when I hear protestors say that Trump is not their president, I say, welcome to the club, folks. You now know what it means to be an American. I tell them to dig in their heels and get ready for decades of feeling this way because the results of national elections are not always going to agree with your views. The upshot is that you’ll get through this with a little bit of effort but setting cars on fire and promising to shut down Inauguration Day only raises the black and red flags of anarchy.  
    It’s good to be reminded that the United States is not a banana republic where you can just dispose of a leader because you object to his (or her) political views.