MANCHESTER, N.H. — It was snowing the night before they voted Tuesday and the sidewalk along Elm Street had become a thin sheet of ice. Some of the people struggled for balance as they stood in line at the intersection and waited for traffic to halt so they could cross to the other side, to the Verizon Center where the show was about to begin.
They hunched forward as they walked against a wall of snow and wind. Yet their faces were creased with smiles and there was laughter in the air as they stood in long lines to get through security and into the warm arena and the expectation that they were about to have a good time on a stormy night.
The concession stands had been open for an hour and some were eating hot dogs while others carried cups of popcorn and soda to their seats. The sound system filled the place with an eclectic playlist featuring the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Pavarotti, and Phantom of the Opera. There were about 4,000 in the hall by the time the Stones sang, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which was quickly followed by a film clip on the Jumbotron displaying different people speaking about the star of the show. When the short film had ended The Beatles song, “Revolution” blared throughout the Center and all the people stood and screamed and clapped as a man emerged from behind a curtain and stood at center stage.
“Wow, look at this. Look at you,” Donald Trump said, taking in the crowd on its feet cheering. “There’s cars out there skidding all over the road and look at you coming out tonight in this blizzard. Thank you. Thank you very much.”
Earlier Monday morning, Bernie Sanders walked on to another stage at Daniel Webster Community College in Nashua as Springsteen’s song “We Take Care of Our Own” filled the gym. About 300 people applauded the 74-year-old senator as if he were a ship on the horizon coming to save them from sinking into the ocean’s grasp.
“We’re going to take back our country,” Sanders told them.
Then, yesterday, all the game plans were covered with dust as this leg of the long campaign ended. The locker room doors swung open and record numbers of voters took the field to cast a ballot in an election that threatens to disrupt so many expectations and predictions of the pros and the pols. One minute after the polls closed, Hillary Clinton conceded defeat to Bernie Sanders and took her wounded candidacy off into the night while Trump was across town, a winner, his rise and his rhetoric, shattering so many myths set down across the years about how politicians win and how they lose.
The people, ordinary people, attracted to both men share more than a few things in common. They have been left on life’s daily battleground, wounded and untended to by a political system that simply does not work. And it does not work largely because one party, the Republican Party in Congress, has chosen to obstruct rather than govern.
So we have millions who wake each day with the grievance of those carrying a cargo of resentment against public people who have not done their job. We have been at war for 15 years. We have lived the last eight with many among us having lost elements of a stable life: their homes, their 401(k)s, some their jobs, others their hope and faith in the immediate future for their families and their children’s dreams.
In too many places 2008 is not a distant memory. It is instead still reflected in a frozen paycheck or a rejected résumé.
These are the people at Trump rallies and Sanders’s campaign stops. They come to participate in what has to be viewed as an aspirational election year. And they look at two very different men who have two very different views on many things the same way a lot of people look at a lottery ticket they just purchased: a chance, a shot, a roll of the dice at beating the system, knocking down an establishment they figure has rolled over them for at least a decade. One brief shining moment when their vote can make them feel like a winner.
Trump gives people the best show. Sanders offers a finely tuned message he has delivered and believed for at least 40 years, maybe longer. Both, in their own way, speak to the volatility rumbling beneath the surface of daily life in America, 2016; to the anxiety, the simmering anger, the feeling that nothing works and hard work is no longer valued as much as it once was, that the toys and tools surrounding us—smart phones, wi-fi, 250 cable channels, iPads, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Starbucks, ATM’s and a legion of other items—have diminished socialization, curiosity, eye contact, firm handshakes, politeness, language, and the old idea of caring about others, even strangers.
Now the polls had closed and Clinton and Trump and Sanders and all the others were speaking to those who worked to help them in New Hampshire. There were more losers than winners, as happens nearly every time people vote anywhere.
In the hotels and motels where the candidates came and went the traveling troubadours of the press and the political people who make a living trying to woo and win a vote here and there were off to airports, heading south and west in a continuing caravan that will not end until November.
Here in New Hampshire, the voting was over. All that was left was the growing awareness that the cracks in the old order were beyond repair and what might be happening to the existing system of politics was foreign soil to many who have taken too much for granted and now walk in the shadows of the past.