Writing in the Window the Day After the Election

Weeks ago, I signed up to write in the window of Apple Tree Books in celebration of National Novel Writing Month. This being Cleveland, poet landia, the owner invited all poets as well as novelists, all writers to write whatever they wanted in their two hours, and I picked what I thought was an innocuous day at a time when I could miss the rush hour drive up Route 8. When I realized that it would be election week, I thought maybe to draft a poem on the election, printing out Adrienne Rich's "What Kind of Times Are These," with the very prophetic lines, "our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,/its own ways of making people disappear," and
Miller Williams' "Of History and Hope," read for Bill Clinton's second inauguration:
"Who were many people coming together/cannot become one people falling apart."
and Langston Hughes' "Let America Be America Again:"
America never was America to me,/ And yet I swear this oath—/ America will be!

But I am not great at on the spot poem production and any poem I start today will, with any luck, be finished maybe in time for the next election. (Seriously, I am slow at the po-machine.) Still, I am going to write that poem. Just not today.

So I thought that maybe I would revise and post an old poem in memory of John Gabel, a great Cleveland poet who died two weeks ago. I have a poem I wrote to him decades & decades past now, lost-- but found, yesterday in a folder marked, "Poems to Send Out." And I still intend to get that out on the blog before his memorial service. 

However, this morning I found that I had chosen a historic day on which to write, a day on which I got three hours sleep the night before, and not because of the elation I thought would keep me up but because of ...the opposite. In short, I have been deeply troubled by election results, not for the first time in my life. And in such times, I have turned to the diary I have kept on and off since I was ten years old. It was one of those little ones with a lock, truly a place of secrets: the secret names of secret clubs and boys I liked and later, when I lived in Cleveland, the stories of who was having affairs and readings and who just punched whom in the women's restroom at CSU because...see affairs. And my struggles with depression that I fought for years. And the names of the boys I liked. I am finding that now that I don't care about who is having affairs and readings and there is only one name, and I love him so very deeply and loudly that no one needs to read my diary to find that out, well, a lot of my previous diary topics make it here to the blog.

So I decided to take the big leap here this morning in the window and write a diary entry and post it.

As I drove for 75 minutes, I thought about elections I had known, and I'll start with a few of those. The first I recalled was the 1956 election of Eisenhower. I was in first grade at Whipple Elementary, a school with a lot of bullies. I always hated playgrounds, but the playground there was the worst, and that cold October, long lines of older boys linked arms and marched across the yard chanting, "We want Ike! We want Ike!" forcing the little kids to run if they did not want to get trampled. That memory has surfaced only recently because of more recent election bullies. When the 1956 election was all over, my maternal grandparents were so sad, said that Stevenson was too intelligent for the American people. This was not an educated couple: she, daughter of a Swiss coal miner and a Welsh mother who died in childbirth when Grandma was five; he, the son of Scottish miners, who escaped the coal mines of Blantyre, England after the worst explosion in Great Britain's history. Both were first generation, born of 19th century immigrants. Only in recent years did I learn that that grandfather moved from Pigeon Run, where he mined, to Canton, Ohio so that his four daughters would get a good education. Think of that: a working class father in 1920 who wanted his daughters to get a good education.

My husband has interesting stories about that election, too, about his cousins, raised on an army base in Spain, who heard Spaniards chanting, "We Lee-kay EE-kay," the Spanish pronunciation of the chant I heard on the school yard. Also, it was the only time his parents voted Republican, admiring Eisenhower's service.

The only time my parents voted Republican was during the Nixon-Kennedy election. My father's family came from Mennonite- EUB people who suffered greatly under Roman Catholic domination, and my father was raised with an anti-virulent attitude toward Catholics that did not abate till decades in our mixed Protestant and Catholic neighborhood, when it did indeed abate. (Not that he as any fuzzy feelings for the pope or Vatican, or the church, but for its people definitely). And that was his main reason for voting against Kennedy, and my mother decided to go with him. Her mother was furious and in an epic phone call, hung up on my mom. Grandma felt better and spoke to my mother again when Kennedy won.

My uncle, Grandma Young's son-in-law, once said, "Gladys, if Jesus Christ were running as a Republican, you'd vote Democrat," and she said, "Why would Jesus change parties now after all these years?"

I always swore that I would never be like her, voting straight party. And now, 53 years later, I will affirm that if any party puts up a viable candidate better than the Democrats, I will vote for another party. So far, it has not happened. So now might be a good time to say that I was very comfortable with Hillary and so happy for the country she hoped for, that I hoped for. I would have been comfortable with Bernie, too, though given how I, who considers myself a social democrat, am treated with that label, I cannot see that we would have had more votes for him. Stevenson all over again. (Still, at the counter in the bookstore right now, as I write,  a woman is arguing vehemently that Bernie would have won. And believe me, I have heard it over and over from three friends on Facebook. Not agreeing with you, folks. And this is my space.)

I'm with my grandparents-- and the media has been trashing me for it-- in that I think the American electorate is not smart enough. Only the media is confusing the college issue. I do not think this is a matter of who went to college and who didn't. I have some very intelligent friends who did not or could not go to college. And I have met some real lunkheads who went to college, among whom were a few of my academic colleagues.   I think it was a matter of who is willing to think and reason for themselves and who didn't or couldn't. You could tell the people who were mouthing the opinions they heard on talk radio. Trying to get a reason for why I should vote for Trump led me into hearing the most unreasonable, unthoughtful answers I have heard in a long time. I heard them again on NPR this morning. And the topper of lamebrained, parroted answers is "change."

Which brings me to my third election memory, November 1968. My freshman year of college, 18 and then, not allowed to vote, I walked into class the morning after the election, and my professor, who had spoken at the Democratic convention that summer, looked as wrecked by sleeplessness as I myself feel today. He assigned us the in-class topics, "Why Nixon won this election" or "Why Humphrey lost this election." My thesis was that Nixon won because people wanted change. They had said it over and over. Now, I had just lived through the assassination of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, but I had been through the South on a very instructive family vacation, and I did not think the "Law and Order" that Nixon was preaching was going to help the people who needed help the most. I didn't think Nixon was particularly focused on keeping people like Dr. King killed with his law and order. And yet, a lot of people seemed to think that change, any change was going to be better than what we had. It seemed to me a very dumb reason, change for the sake of change, but it seemed to me the reason. I got a C+ on the paper, the lowest I ever got in a class that year. (Note to my Bentley student: back in the olden days, professors gave C's and even D's and F's.) I probably didn't explain that this was not my opinion and that I thought it was a very stupid idea, just where I got this answer. I have always been better at explanation than argumentation, a genre and tactic I don't even respect. You may recall that Nixon won that election, and I can't say that particular choice went well for our government. Yes, it showed it worked, but it has better work to do.

I think that a desire for any change, no matter how lamebrained, unexplained, or misguided, was one of the main reason's for today's outcome too. It's the same reasoning as behind term limits, this notion that change means improvement. No, sometimes change means things get worse. Term limits seems a good example of that. Kicking someone out of a job who is doing a good job to put in someone who does a worse job makes no sense to me. Especially not when you can vote them out. This morning, on my NPR ride, I heard people asked how they expect things to change exactly, for example, how would more jobs be produced in the new administration. Silence and vague guesses-- because it's not as if we were told any specifics on jobs. Just that it's going to be so much better we won't believe. Well, the last part is true. I don't believe.

Historians this morning say that change is in fact what drives American politics so that very few times has a party had a three-term run. Obama had been quoted as noting that the American electorate might want that "clean car smell."  I definitely smell something this morning and it's not clean. But it is that American drive for change at all costs, no matter how bad, no matter how vague.

The other American drive at the wheel this morning is what I call the drive to win, or, in this case, the Electoral College. For the fifth time in our history and the second time in my life, the President was not elected by popular vote. The President-elect this morning-- at least at this point in the morning-- does not have a majority of the votes cast, nor does he have the most votes. And this system, about which I have such mixed feelings, is one that was designed by rich,white, land-holding (and most, slave-holding) men who did not trust the people to elect their leader and who did not trust women to do anything-- vote, hold office, serve in the army, worry their pretty little heads. I don't think it's an accident that the two people who won the popular vote and lost the Electoral College in my lifetime were liberals, and I hope the party will think about whether it is at last time to ditch that system. I'd consider it way before third and fourth parties (which I have seen as disasters in other countries) or ranked choice voting. [Day after revision: I have been researching this and have found that the Electoral College over-riding the popular vote has happened four times in our history. All four times, it was the Democratic, or liberal, party that got screwed. See: rich, white, land-holding men-- today called The Republican Party.]

And more than anything, I feel this election was driven by misogyny that is so deep-seated in this country that people cannot admit it. We seem slowly recognizing that it is the source of the rape and sexual abuse and harrassment that goes on daily. I feel that many women are as deeply filled with it as men: it's called self-hate. I think it is born of a lack of critical feeling and fairness. And I have one last story on that score.

During the primary, my 92-year-old dad told me he was voting for Bernie. That's okay; my husband voted for Bernie, and many of my favorite former students and some of my best friends did. But what was not okay was Dad's reason when I asked him why. "I just can't imagine a woman President," he said. I was cut to the quick. This was the man who encouraged me to finish my college education with money he earned on a second job, with many trips to move me and visit me and bring me home when I hated the college I was stuck at. He is the man who keeps a copy of all my books of poetry in his assisted living apartment. I pointed out to him that he had raised three strong daughters to lead in their chosen profession and what the hell was he thinking. He just shrugged. And yet, seven interminably long months later, he voted for the woman. I could say it is his lifelong commitment to the Democrats, but still, it was coming up against his lifelong German-roots conservative attitudes to women. And yet, and yet,  he could imagine a woman President more than he could imagine having a President who demeaned women and servicemen, immigrants and the disabled. My dad's 92 year-old imagination expanded exponentially as he read and considered the issue.

And people and pundits and politicians can give me all the alternate theories they want, but I think the biggest reason for this election is the American people's failure of imagination.

My two hours are coming to a close. I want to thank Jane of Appletree for leading me to this daring journey. 


  1. Beautifully told, as ever. What a grasp you have on your personal history and perspective on it.

  2. Well said, Diane, all of it.

    Miss Cotton