Wednesday afternoon a lone demonstrator, dressed all in black, is standing at the traffic light in a town called Freeland, Washington, on the southern end of a long, narrow piece of real estate in the Puget Sound called Whidbey Island. The woman is holding a sign: IN MOURNING FOR DEMOCRACY.
Tuesday afternoon at the same spot there was a happier group of 60 or 70 citizens, mostly senior citizens, stirring up the vote. Mostly whooping it up for Hillary, but the south end of the island has a share of the other kind too, and because nobody here ever takes off his bumper stickers, the hard feelings of 2016 will still be haunting the place 30 years down the road. That is to say in the year 2046 somebody will call the sheriff to complain that the red-necks have keyed the door panel of his 2005 Prius, or, more likely, the liberals have vandalized his 2011 Ford F-150. The complaint will be duly investigated and then included—a month and a half after the complaint is received—in the south end’s bi-weekly newspaper, the Whidbey Record. (Note: a tip for aspiring young writers: it happens that one of the authors of this column has been a literary man for so many years that he can operate a typewriter, and has endured through all that time wondering—but never bothering to look up—the meaning of the word “bi-weekly. This evening, however, for no reason he can explain, he suddenly felt an urgent need to know. Does bi-weekly mean once every two weeks, or two times every week? The answer, it turns out, is yes. It means both. Take this as a cautionary tale: nobody ever promised there wouldn’t be disappointments.).
But we were talking about the Whidbey Record, which is published the kind of bi-weekly that means two times a week, Wednesday and Saturday. By far the most popular and interestingly written section of the paper is the Sheriff’s Report, and reading of the vandalism the island’s politically-inclined citizens will write scathing letters to the editor regarding political vandalism and is this really what it means to be an “American” (quotation marks and italics as will be surely printed in the paper), and/or is this the way we want to live, under fear and intimidation?
Soon readers will see rebuttal letters, personal histories of rude treatment at the county disposal center (an island resident recently drove to the disposal center in a 1981 Chrysler minivan and got into an argument with one of the attendants who, with nothing much going on but the bad weather, tried to liven the morning by telling the resident that she regretted to inform him, sir, that the compactors weren’t big enough to accommodate his piece-of-shit Chrysler). Which will surely bring to mind complaints about the big-shot Microsoft retirees, snowbirds who live here four months a year and take up two parking spaces at the grocery store because they are afraid some unwashed citizen is going to park his beater too close to their Porsche.
And where is the grocery store? Thought you’d never ask. It’s the first turn-in past the light on the corner where the citizens congregate to encourage passing motorists to participate in our democracy, to vote. This year especially to vote for Hillary.
Which is to say, the corner during the election is in some ways a little reproduction of the country. The night before the election you turn on the television to see what the weather is going to be for the game, and the weatherman begins tells you that you'll need an umbrella tomorrow, and to get out and vote. You have got the wrong channel and you switch over to ESPN to watch the Seahawks play Buffalo and Chris Berman. On the chance that you feel that America needs more huff and puff and less blow your house down than it has already watched, Berman is your man. And what does Berman say?
He says voting is your right and your privilege, your duty.
And this is how it goes. The paper you read will write an editorial, reminding you of the sacrifices others have made so that you can vote. Of the lives spent. All the whores of talk radio, left and right, who take money to endorse products—putting a price tag on their good opinions—they are all telling you to vote too.
But the truth is, you don’t pay off your debts by voting. That is too easy. It is not your duty to soldiers. If you have a duty in this, it’s to know something about it, not to be led around by the nose or a party. People you don’t trust or know have propped up two of the openly greediest humans on the planet, a shameless hustler, a shameless liar.
You cannot shake us awake one morning in November and tell us we have an obligation to help one of them climb over the other.
The woman with her sign at the light in Freeland was right about a problem, wrong about the reason. Democracy didn’t die last Tuesday because Donald Trump got elected President. It’s been losing ground for a long time. The Electoral College is so obviously flawed as to be hardly worth discussing. What we don’t have is a safety measure. A real and automatic third party, always in play.
A box to check that says THIS WON’T DO.
And if THIS WON’T DO gets the most votes, we have another election. Turn the executive branch over for a month to all three branches—one member of the Court, one member of Congress, one Presidential appointment—and try it again, and again, however long it takes one side or the other to get it right.