Safety Pins, Fun Protests, and Yet More

More from the “random post-election thoughts” bin:

I don’t think I ever documented this, but Clinton won (or “is winning” I should say) Virginia 49.60 to 44.56 with 99.88% of precincts reporting. (I was going to round that but I suddenly realized I have no idea how you’re supposed to round election results. Normal rounding? Truncation? One up, one down?) It’s a bit outside the range I guessed (I guessed that if Clinton won by less than 3-4 points the election would go to Trump) but Trump still won.

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Regarding the safety pins: I never get involved in “retweet if you think X” campaigns out of general principle. I’m also generally not comfortable with “wear X if you support Y” campaigns. I could tolerate ribbons to support charities I guess, but I’m not okay with safety pins to mark friendly people.

I’ll admit that some part of it is a general fear that it might provoke a stranger to ask me, “Hey what’s that?” and thereby trap me into a conversation I don’t want.

But another part is this: I understand why it’s being done, and I sympathize, but those kind of things feel like attempts to publicly separate people into “good” groups and “bad” groups, and I can’t support that. It’s something that both sides do (flag pins, anyone?). It reinforces feelings of fear and suspicion and divisiveness, in my opinion, and I don’t want to be part of that right now.

In a way I also feel like it violates my privacy, and I’m a very private person.

Now this next part might freak people out. But every time I see one of these “wear X to denote Y” things I immediately think of images like this:

Polen, Ghetto Litzmannstadt, alter Mann
Polen, Ghetto Litzmannstadt, alter Mann, from Wikimedia Commons

I know intellectually that the circumstances and intent are totally different here, but it doesn’t feel different to me. For every person that might recognize the symbol and think, “whew, that guy’s on our side,” there’s another person that might recognize the symbol and think, “okay, let’s keep an eye on that guy because he’s an enemy.”

In this case, quite literally a 1:1 ratio of people. It might seem perfectly safe to wear badges in California and New York where Clinton won like 90-10 or whatever, but in my neck of the woods the totals are much closer to 50-50.

And I’m not even discussing the number of trolls that are going to wear safety pins and then say, “Tee hee, I’m not safe! I’m a hungry wolf ready to eat you all up! Get them up against the wall!”

I understand I might be labeled a “bad” person for saying all of that, so I guess I’ll have to live with it. I’ve tried to explain it as best I can. If it’s any consolation I don’t wear flag pins either.

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A lot of people are saying #NotMyPresident. (I’m almost positive people said the same after Obama was elected.) Well, who *is* your president? How does your government operate? What checks and balances are in place? How is legislation crafted in your system? How does the press ensure your freedoms? Because you have no president, does that mean you have to rights? I’m being flippant of course but I’m legitimately curious if anyone has actually thought that through. (I hope not, because that would indicate an actual plot to takeover the government.)

Something else I feel like I need to say which may have been missed in my previous ramblings: Right now everything is well within acceptable parameters of normal American democracy. If I start to see signs of things going south, I’ll happily join the resistance movement. I don’t know exactly what I can *do* in the resistance movement, except write some dumb blog posts. I can run a web site at least. 🙂

I’ve been fascinated to hear some analysts make the case that Trump’s win is similar to Reagan’s win, in that many at the time also viewed him as an outsider who wouldn’t be able to get anything done. I was just entering middle school in 1980 so of course I have no memory of that election campaign, but it’s interesting to think about.

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I don’t think I’ve mentioned this yet either: I do not believe in the axiom, “If group A supports candidate B, then candidate B endorses group A.” In other words, I don’t accept that Trump supports (insert bad thing here) because (insert bad thing here)-supporters voted for him. Racist, misogynist Nazi, KKK, whatever. I also don’t believe in the related axiom, “If candidate A fails to denounce group B, then candidate A must support group B.”

I’ve railed upon that kind of rhetoric for years. They are logical traps used to circumvent intelligent debate. They’re used to persuade distracted people, in other words. I say “distracted” instead of “ignorant” because sometimes people are too busy to deep dive into dissecting election rhetoric.

Here’s a handy trick you can use though: If you see someone say, “Group A supports candidate B, so candidate B endorses group A,” you can safely ignore everything that person says. Seek guidance elsewhere.

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Regarding those protests again, I watched the local NBC 12 live feed of the protests that went on in Richmond, Virginia on Thursday night, November 10th. The cameraman walked beside the protesters while they walked down the city streets, just kind of pointing the camera in their general direction. The mic was live so I got to hear all the chants. (The feed stopped when they reached police cars, I’m not sure what that was all about.)

I didn’t see anyone that looked more than college age. I heard a lot of cool chants against fascism and the KKK and Trump. I heard Black Lives Matter chants. I heard chants I didn’t understand.

I came away with the distinct impression that these folks would have protested even if Clinton had won. They sounded more like anarchists than disappointed Democrats. They sounded like they were having fun, quite frankly. I heard laughing, I heard woops and cheers. It looked more like a parade than a protest.

I guess we don’t quite know how to do civil unrest yet.

A Slight Correction

I was thinking about this and I want to issue a slight correction to what I wrote in my last post:

On those Electoral College hopes: Again, I understand. Nobody in your circles wanted Trump to be president. You’re seeing some bad things spreading like wildfire all across social media, and you’re panicking. The nightmare might be coming true. Trying to convince electoral college voters to change their votes before it’s too late sounds like a great plan. But it’s illegal. It’s unethical. It’s sinister. And I’m sorry to say this, but it’s UN-AMERICAN.

After I woke up this morning, way too early, it suddenly popped into my head that what I’d written was incorrect. (These days I like to be obsessively precise in my Internet writings.) It’s okay to call or write or email the electors and ask them politely to change their votes. It’s desperate and I believe it’s an unhealthy way of thinking, but it’s not “illegal,” “unethical,” “sinister,” or “un-American.” Deepest apologies to anyone who might have read that. (Ha! I know nobody read that.)

But.

I do believe it’s illegal, unethical, sinister, and UN-AMERICAN for the electors themselves to change their votes. So it is now incumbent upon those electors to stand up to the pressure they are facing, explain why they cannot change their votes, and proceed with their civic duty. I don’t envy them right now.

I do believe it’s irresponsible and a little bit subversive for someone to try to start a movement of people to call state electors. It’s not illegal, and I don’t believe it should be, but that someone or someones is an Internet influencer trying to influence American democracy, which is the very thing I’m now afraid of (see my remarks here). Those subversives are capitalizing on fear and the echo chamber effect to gather an army of social media pawns to do their bidding, and that’s wrong. (I actually don’t know who started it, but I’m sure whoever it was had a lot of followers.)

But I don’t blame the pawns making the phone calls. I might urge them, however, to try not to be a pawn in life. Maybe aspire to be a knight or a rook.

Incidentally, I do happen to follow one of the Virginia electors on Twitter who will be casting a vote on December 19th. I might follow others too but she’s the only one I know about. I don’t know her personally, but I’ve watched her political work in Virginia over the years and I highly respect it. I know her as a person of utmost integrity when it comes to these things. I am confident that she views her civic duty as sacred. If she is a representative sample of electors around the country (and I think she might be), they are not going to change their votes. If you put a gun to their head on the 19th and told them to change their vote, I imagine they would take their duty so seriously that they would choose death as the best option for the republic, and in this case, they would be right, and I would view them as national heroes and honor their sacrifice however I could.

(Don’t get excited, I’m not going to reveal who it is. Maybe it’s already public knowledge, I don’t know. Anyway Virginia electors are voting for Clinton anyway. I’ve found it amusing to see lists of phone numbers including Virginia when there’s no need to call Virginia. That, to me, is a measure of how panicked people are.)

Deep Breaths Please

I’ve been watching Trump *very* closely since election night. He hasn’t said more than a handful of words since his victory speech. He hasn’t gloated. He hasn’t blustered. Everything is going very well. Extremely well. Shockingly well. Everything is proceeding exactly like the peaceful transfer of power should go. Everyone in Washington appears to be conscious of the nation’s fears and taking deliberate steps to calm things, despite all the reporters trying their best to rile things up again. Frankly this transition so far appears to be going better than the one from Bush to Obama, which I also thought went very well.

There’s been NO indication that Trump will be anything but a run-of-the-mill, ordinary, mundane president. Our system of government was created for the express purpose of enforcing that.

Trump supporters, on the other hand… “those” Trump supporters, that is… Well, two of my Facebook friends have declared they are leaving Facebook already, so that’s fun. I don’t use Facebook, but still. It’s nice to know people are there. Or were.

I’m not surprised though. Emotions run high after elections. Anyway, to “those” Trump supporters: I get it, you’ve been waiting eight years to be that total dick nobody wants to be around. You’ve earned your place in the sun I guess.

To the Trump supporters who are actual monsters (Nazis, KKK, etc.): Wait, why are you even here? I don’t want to talk to you. Thankfully there aren’t many of you. But this is America, so I guess go ahead and feel free to be a monster. Just don’t break any laws or hurt anyone, okay? Thanks. Also, stop being a monster. Or maybe go to Syria and be a monster. Those ISIS or ISIL or IS or whatever-they’re-calleds really seem to enjoy being monsters over there, and they get to shoot people with impunity. Any people. Women, children. It doesn’t even matter. Actually, come to think of it, you Nazi monsters might actually enjoy shooting the ISIS monsters. It could even save some American soldiers’ lives down the road. Do something useful with your life for a change.

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Twitter looks like a different world now. The feeds that used to be talking about my hobbies (games and books and general geek stuff) are now talking about panic attacks, fear, depression, retweeting suicide hotline numbers, or even worse–far, far worse–are eerily silent. Occasionally there are some attempts to get back to normal, article links and so forth, half-hearted humor, but they seem tentative, even fearful.

I’m scared myself. Scared I’m going to say something that might accidentally escalate fears, instead of calming them down.

On those protests: I support your right to protest. It’s healthy for a democracy. If nothing else, it sends a message to the incoming president that people are watching and he should be careful, because he has to lead everyone. I’m sure there would have been protests if Clinton had won, too. I have no doubt of that whatsoever.

But take a few deep breaths. Many of the fears that people are reacting to were created in echo chambers on social media. (That would have applied to the other protesters if Clinton had won, too.) Watch what is actually happening. Don’t keep re-watching and re-sharing what happened during the campaigns. That’s over.

On #Calexit: I live on the other side of the country from California, so I don’t think it would affect me personally if that state “exited” (whatever that means), but it would still suck, ya know? I don’t want to live in a dystopian young adult novel. I like having 50 states. It’s a nice, round number. I like oranges. I like movies. I like Gmail. Also, some of the people I follow live there, and I’d hate to see them, or anyone, have to go through that madness.

(Apparently #Calexit has been a thing since even before the elections, and Californians will vote in 2018 on whether they get to vote on it in 2019.)

On those Electoral College hopes: Again, I understand. Nobody in your circles wanted Trump to be president. You’re seeing some bad things spreading like wildfire all across social media, and you’re panicking. The nightmare might be coming true. Trying to convince electoral college voters to change their votes before it’s too late sounds like a great plan. But it’s illegal. It’s unethical. It’s sinister. And I’m sorry to say this, but it’s UN-AMERICAN.

And to be brutally honest, what exactly do you think is going to happen when half the nation hears that the president they elected isn’t there? You think they’re going to say, “Oh, good show! Bravo! Well played, sir!” Think about these things a little bit, please.

I feel like what we’re seeing right now is a variation of dancing mania. I’ve read about that phenomenon before but I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. But I think this is what it must have looked like. I saw a protester interviewed live on CNN. The person was out-of-breath, talking a mile a minute, almost passing out from lack of oxygen, apparently experiencing a panic attack right there on live television. Most of the fears this person quoted sounded completely out-of-context and without basis to me, too. Like they were quoting something they’d seen on Facebook, quite frankly.

So everybody take some deep breaths.

Post-Election 2016

This post has taken days to work on, and it’s not finished, but I gave up and you’re just going to have to deal with it because I’m ready to move on now.

I’m aware that people feel very passionately about this election, so I will warn folks on both the left and the right that there might be some triggers below.

I’m still a centrist, and I view this election and this country through a fairly dispassionate moderate filter. Still, even I’m feeling overwhelmed by all the anger and fear and disappointment I’ve seen after the election. Most of my Internet circles experienced this election result quite like another 9/11. So it might be better if you wait a while to read this. I don’t want to throw gasoline on any fires here.

But it helps me to write it while it’s fresh in my mind.

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I can’t really prove this, but I wrote the words below as an epilogue for my Election Day Tale, but removed it because I didn’t want anything resembling partisanship in that post:

“I don’t know how this election will turn out. But I’m inclined to agree with something I saw on another blog, which is that it won’t be a close Clinton win like the polls suggest. It will either be a *huge* Clinton win, or a close Trump win. I’ll be watching the results of my state (Virginia) to get a better idea of who might win. Polls close in Virginia at 6 7 PM (Eastern time), and I hope to post this before then. If Trump wins Virginia, I’m pretty sure he’ll win the nation. If Clinton wins Virginia as predicted, but it’s closer than expected (say less than 3-4 points), Trump could win a close election. Otherwise it will almost certainly be Clinton all the way.

“Also, despite the long line at *my* polling place, I predict very low voter turnout overall. I’ve heard a disproportionate number of non-millennial people say they weren’t going to vote.

“Please note, though, that I don’t know anything about anything.

“Regardless of how it turns out, 2020 is going to be a nightmare. This [year] has been nothing. In 2020, we’ll look back at the good old days of 2016 when elections were sane. If Trump wins, can you even imagine what Democrats will say in their [2020] campaigns? If Clinton wins, can you even imagine what Republicans and whatever-other-alt-right-party-develops will say in their [2020] campaigns?”

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That last paragraph really worries me. I still believe it. I’m not looking forward to 2020 and 2024.

I feel like I need to disclose that yes, I’m a white male, and I voted for Clinton. I don’t like feeling the need to disclose that, for reasons that I will get to down below somewhere, but I know that matters to some people.

I’m not afraid for myself or America. I still believe Trump is fairly moderate on the political scale. I don’t believe he will start World War 3, or deport Latinos, or build any walls. I don’t believe he will be able to reverse everything or possibly even anything that Obama or Bush or Clinton has done. I understand and sympathize with the reasons that people are afraid of Trump, but I believe those fears have been amplified out of control in the echo chambers of social media.

Still, I fervently hope Trump stays in office for his entire term. I’ve already seen #ImpeachTrump on Twitter. For me, the real nightmare scenario is a Mike Pence presidency.

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So what have we learned from this 2016 election?

I can’t speak for you, but here’s some things that I learned. They aren’t good things.

2016 is the year that I began to fear the power of the Internet to influence the democratic process negatively.

(When I say “the Internet” I am referring to the largely leftward-leaning Internet, controlled by leftward-leaning corporations such as Facebook and Google. The rightward-leaning Internet is still in its infancy. It’s basically the alt-right.)

I should leave it at that, because I’m on the Internet, therefore I fear what could happen to me if I express the “wrong” opinion. There’s no Bill of Rights on the Internet, you know. There’s no “freedom of speech” giving me a legal shield to speak up against the governors of the Internet. (And yes, I view the Internet as a new kind of lawless nation state.)

I know that might sound like something a Sad Puppy or GamerGate supporter would say. “The elites are oppressing me!” I don’t support those guys, but they have some valid criticisms and I understand their arguments.

Since I’m afraid of getting beat up by the Internet, I need to say that I’m a white male and I voted for Clinton. Truly. I probably didn’t do so for the “right” reasons though. I was not advancing progressivism (neither am I necessarily opposed to that). I think Clinton is a very capable public servant and politician, but I didn’t want a Clinton presidency. I’m not with her. I didn’t and don’t endorse her.

I voted for Clinton because my dislike of Mike Pence was greater than my dislike of Hillary Clinton. That’s basically it.

My main opposition to another Clinton being in the White House, by the way, is a purely philosophical one. I don’t believe any relatives or spouses of presidents should be eligible to become future presidents. I didn’t like that Bush Jr. followed Bush Sr. I don’t believe Jeb Bush should be president. I don’t believe Michelle Obama should be president. It feels too much like an aristocracy or a monarchy to me.

I briefly considered voting for Jill Stein, because I respected her conduct as a presidential candidate and I fully support the struggle to get more third parties on ballots. But I don’t agree with much of the Green party platform.

I might have supported the Libertarian party, but I can’t support Gary Johnson.

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Okay, so what makes me worry that the Internet is turning bad all of a sudden? Hold on, I’ll explain. I’m trying to be very cautious and non-inflammatory in the way I phrase things, so it takes a while.

The very fact that I feel like I need to be so careful is part of the problem. All it takes is one wrong word and people will ban, block, disengage, and retreat into their bubbles. When I write about politics, I prefer to write in a way that will engage with everyone. Or at least try to.

I’ve observed some disturbing trends in the tone of Internet advocacy. Since the Internet is mostly liberal, that means liberal advocacy. There’s a right way and a wrong way to try to convince people to vote for your candidate. By which I mean there’s an inoffensive way and an offensive way.

The right, inoffensive way is to list the reasons why you like your candidate’s platform. Maybe even point out things you disagree with in the other candidate’s platform.

The wrong, offensive, divisive way is to make fun of the opposing candidate, or make fun of the opposing candidate’s supporters.

The Internet made fun of Trump and Trump supporters all the way from beginning to end.

I’m not saying there’s no cause for it. I’m just saying it undeniably happened.

Again, I’m a centrist. I look at the pros and cons of all candidates. When I examined the Trump message and the Trump platform, I found plenty of cons, but I also found pros. In some way, that made me a Trump supporter, or at least a potential Trump supporter.

So when the Internet made fun of Trump, it was also making fun of me, a moderate, a centrist. I didn’t like that.

The Internet has developed into a snarkocracy where the snarkiest rise to the top. It’s a fairly simple process. Surviving in the top echelons of the Internet requires staying popular. Staying popular requires hits, and correspondingly, hits also generate revenue. The most effective way to generate hits is to create controversy.

Controversy—snark—generates hits, which generates money. I can’t stress enough that when we fight on the Internet, people or corporations are making money. It’s like digital war profiteering, a concept I just thought of and should probably trademark immediately. Unless somebody already thought of it.

There’s very little that’s more infuriating—more controversial—than challenging someone’s beliefs using snark. It’s impossible to remain calm when someone is making you feel dumb. It’s impossible to be receptive to changing your mind when you’re being attacked. Nobody in the history of the world has ever changed their mind about their core beliefs because somebody made fun of them.

I understand what it must have felt like to be a solid Trump supporter and be subjected to the torrent of snark from the Internet. Since I considered Trump to be at least worthy of consideration, the Internet was effectively making fun of me. At least it felt that way.

I’ve gotten angry at the Internet a lot in the last few months, for its complete lack of open-mindedness on the Trump front. Closed-mindedness generally makes me angry. I had to bite my tongue a lot because I was afraid—literally afraid—to make any kind of stand against the anti-Trump momentum on the Internet. Even just a quiet remark here or there felt like I would be exposing myself to an Internet death blow.

I could also lump the entire entertainment industry (including the news media) in with the Internet here, by the way. But I’m not in the entertainment industry, I’m just on the Internet.

Snarkiness has always been particularly bad during election years. That’s nothing new. I’m sure it was bad on Usenet and Fidonet in the early days, but my memory of this phenomenon started in 2006-2008. It intensified in 2012, and it’s never been so bad as it has been in 2016.

I can’t wait to see how bad it’s going to be in 2020, because I know it’s going to get worse. The backlash from the election has already started. “Trump supporters were bastards to us, so we’re going fight harder and be twice as bastard-y to them next time!” That’s the mantra of all political activists. It always gets worse. It’s all over Twitter and Facebook right now. The social media echo chamber turns it into a deafening cacophony. Voices calling for calm are completely drowned out. The Internet is getting out of control, and it’s going to bite us one day. We’re living in the Cyber Old West, where cell phones are our six guns, and eventually we’re going to need some lawmen to come in and clean up this town.

Sorry about that terrible analogy.

Look, I didn’t vote for Trump. But this is still a democracy and he was legitimately nominated by legitimate elections by legitimate Americans with legitimate thoughts and feelings, which makes him a legitimate option for thoughtful voters to consider. It really annoys and frightens me that the entire Internet might come down on me for saying something as fundamentally American as that. Or even worse, that the entire Internet might consider me a racist, misogynist, whateverist for saying that.

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I’ll admit I’m a bit contrarian at times. There’s a part of me that wanted to vote for Trump, because the Internet consistently made me angry about this. I wanted to vote for him just to prove that the world wouldn’t explode if he were elected. Just to prove that American democracy can and will survive the most ridiculous president ever.

Unfortunately, thanks to confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance and all those fancy logical fallacy arguments we know and love, rabid Trump opposition will still find a way to believe he is the new Hitler, no matter what he does.

Eventually everyone will forget that Trump is just Trump, while Hitler was motherfucking Hitler, and that makes me angry.

(The comparison of Trump to Hitler makes me particularly angry because that argument is such an incredible insult to one’s intelligence, one’s knowledge of history, and the memory of 60 million dead people.)

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As I said I’m a white male. I understand what white privilege is. I understand what male privilege is. I try to be conscious of it, for whatever good that might do. I try to follow Wheaton’s Law, and not be a dick. I fully acknowledge all of the advantages that I’ve had in my life by pure genetic luck.

But I’m not going to apologize for being a white male. I’m not going to feel ashamed about it.

I feel like a lot of people on the Internet think I should. I feel pressure to accept and acknowledge that everything is my fault, and that I should atone for it. I feel like I hear that message every day, from every direction, all the time. In some circles I feel like I’m hit over the head by a sledgehammer with it.

I understand that it’s a natural response from the plight of people who are less privileged. But it sucks. It sucks for them, and it sucks for me. It wears on a person. I don’t want to be responsible for the suffering of vast swathes of the planet. I just want to do my thing, ya know?

The point is that I’m not surprised some of that feeling filtered into the election results. I’d like to think we can work out a happy medium someday.

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In real life, for some reason I don’t fully understand, I often find myself in the unfortunate position of trying to mediate between people who have opposing views on things. Work things, usually. Most of the time, I find myself interpreting what one side says to the other side, because for whatever reason they can’t understand each other. Sometimes, I have to tell people that they are both saying the same thing, in different ways. It’s weird to me that people can’t tell that. In my personal opinion it usually boils down to the fact that people love to talk, but they hate to listen and learn.

So I think I have a pathological need to remain neutral. I don’t like it when people fight, especially when they are both saying the same thing. It wastes time. It doesn’t get anything done. The clock is ticking, we’re all going to die someday, so sitting around bickering pointlessly seems dumb.

So it’s been painful to watch people in my networks express how personally betrayed they feel about the election results. I wish I could say something to make them feel better. I want to explain all the reasons why things turned out this why, and why everything will be all right, and why this election should not be viewed as a referendum against any individuals or minorities. But I know people need time to grieve. Some people may never be ready to listen. The only thing I can do is keep saying that I don’t believe a Trump presidency will destroy America. It’s been only a single day and there are already hopeful signs.

I do believe that divisive politics and a constant need to seek vengeance against the opposing party will destroy America. Eventually, it will cause a dissolution of the United States, similar to the fall of the Soviet Union. It might happen in my lifetime at this rate. Maybe in 2020 or 2024.

I guess I should acknowledge that there are people in the world who enjoy fighting. There are a lot of people like that, in my opinion. A lot of them can be found on the Internet, in the wake of this election result. A lot of people think political bickering is the most fun game ever. I can’t do anything about them. I have to accept that they will never change. No matter how much middle ground you show those people, they will find a way to fight, because they are defined by fighting opposition.

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I can’t support blaming third party voters for the Trump win. The blame (if it can be called that) for the Trump win rests 100% on the shoulders of Washington’s elected officials. Collectively, they’ve failed. I feel like Paul Ryan acknowledged that in his remarks, which is good.

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I’ve been horrified by the way the Internet has consistently rejected any attempt at understanding the reasons why somebody like Trump could gather support in America.

The real reasons, not the throw-away Internet meme reasons. Not the reasons we tell ourselves after we’ve covered our eyes, believing we understand everything we need to know already.

America is now geographically split between rural citizens and urban citizens. Those are the two different countries we Americans live in.

I saw a tweet imploring us to stay friends because we have to live with each other.

We don’t live with each other though. Look at the electoral map, broken down by county. The tiny blue spots are the population centers. The red sea between—the huge swath of red that sprawls all the way from one coast to the other—is the rural area. Rural voters never see or interact with urban voters, and vice versa.

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One huge issue that needs to be addressed is why Trump won the nomination. And I don’t mean how he was able to “cheat the system.” I’ve already seen discussions about changing the nomination process so that someone like Trump can never win again. That is wrong, wrong, wrong, and more wrong. Not least because it will further inflame his base.

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There needs to be a discussion of why a large percentage of the country prefers an unqualified outsider to an established politician. It has nothing to do with grabbing women or racism or emails. It has to do with the fact that rural America doesn’t believe the government cares about them, and they have a lot of valid reasons to think that. That is the main conflict I see within America right now, and possibly everywhere in the world: Rural lifestyle versus urban lifestyle. Somebody needs to address that pretty soon.

(I have no idea how to address that.)

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Another problem to be addressed is the rapidly developing Cold War 2.0 happening over there in Syria. Remember when Russia used to be scary? Well, they never really stopped being scary. Now they’re shooting at people. And Putin apparently doesn’t have to step down after eight years.

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Other thoughts: I didn’t and wouldn’t ever vote for the Green party, but Jill Stein was the best candidate in terms of acting presidential. At least on Twitter. (I hardly ever saw her on television.) I wish she had been the Democractic candidate. Almost all of her tweets made me think about issues, and made me lament that there are only two parties to choose from. Kudos to her. It’s too bad Green policies are wackadoodle. (See, I made fun of them and now you’re mad, right?)

The Libertarian Party really, really needs to nominate somebody else in 2020. Somebody in Gary Johnson’s position in 2016 should have done a lot better. He was a non-factor on Twitter. If I saw one tweet from him in a day, it was a miracle.

On third parties in general, if anyone is going to take them seriously, they need to moderate their positions more than they do. It won’t be long before legalization of marijuana isn’t controversial for a Libertarian candidate, but Gary Johnson trying to defend closing down half of government agencies is still going to be a deal-breaker for most reasonable people. Even people who hate the government know you can’t just close it.

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In other news, Scott Adams is a genius. A little sociopathic, but a genius. It’s very fascinating to read his blog. I’ve been reading it off and on for, I don’t know, five years? Ten years? If nothing else, he gave a master class in how to recognize when someone is social engineering you. Everyone should learn that. He’s also kind of a dick sometimes, so buyer beware. But you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs yada yada.

Seriously, every high school should teach classes in basic skepticism, critical thinking, social engineering, and how to lie to pollsters.

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I feel dumb saying this, but I honestly do not understand why LGBTs feel they might be persecuted under a Trump presidency. Latinos, I understand. Muslims, I understand. (I disagree, but I at least know what Trump said to cause the fear.) But I cannot recall ever seeing or hearing anything from Trump about LGBTs.

LGBT fear of Mike Pence, though, I fully understand. However, I do not believe he will be in a position to change any policies.

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Other brief thoughts from election night:

I loved the disbelief I saw on the faces of the election night pundits (I mostly watched CNN). I am not immune to feeling a smug sense of satisfaction when the mainstream media is wrong. I love it when polls are wrong. I hope everybody who ever answers a poll question lies.

I have never accepted the premise that Trump is dangerous. I wish I could think of a way to convince the rest of the Internet of that, but even if I could, I don’t think anyone is ready to listen.

What makes me saddest for the future is knowing that a lot of people are never going to know or even try to understand why this happened. They will blame third-party voters or racists or voter suppression and that will be the end of it for them.

What this election says is that people on the Internet (essentially, people in urban areas) do not know or understand people in rural areas.

I felt it at the time, and I now I definitely believe, it was a big mistake for Clinton to rely so much on that Access Hollywood tape.

I would like to see the electoral map laid over a map of Broadband penetration. Just out of curiosity. I suspect broadband penetration has a correlation with Democratic voting results.

What will happen when Trump doesn’t “lock her up?” Because he won’t. Oh, he might appoint somebody to push some papers around and make it look like there’s an investigation. But it will go away. There’s no doubt in my mind. How long will Trump supporters wait before they turn on him?

Trump’s victory speech was exactly the right tone.

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Brief thoughts from the day after the election:

European folks woke up on 11/9 (in their weird backwards date format) to the news of a Trump victory. Comparisons to 9/11 immediately ensued. It occurred to me that I was staring at cable news exactly the same way that I had been staring at cable news on 9/11. I haven’t done that at any other time between.

When I remove all emotion from the equation, I find this to be a very fascinating election result. It’s a very “interesting” time in history. I read about other interesting times and sometimes wonder what it would have been like to live through them, and now I’m apparently living through one myself. It doesn’t really feel that special, to be honest. 🙂

“Political correctness” is no longer necessary to run for office. I’m a little relieved. The days of filming candidates 24/7 to catch them in a “gotcha” moment might be over.

I suspect Clinton was “late” on her concession speech because her team simply did not prepare for it. And when they finally realized they needed to make one, they realized they needed to make a really really great one to address all of the people (half of the country) who are terrified.

Result: I thought Clinton’s concession speech was really good.

I was encouraged by Trump’s acceptance speech on election night. I was encouraged by Paul Ryan’s brief speech the day after. I was very encouraged by Clinton’s concession speech. I was further encouraged by Obama’s followup speech. And finally I was very, very pleased to see that the market didn’t crash the day after the election. All of those things together are signs that the apocalypse is still some distance into the future, and we can expect a plain old four-year presidential term.

When Clinton said someone would break the glass ceiling “sooner than we might think” in her concession speech I was pretty sure she was referring to Michelle Obama. I like Mrs. Obama and all but I do not believe spouses of previous presidents should be eligible to run. Can’t we get people to run for president without any baggage?

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Here’s a dumb joke I didn’t share on Twitter because I thought it was too soon:

The real question here is what will happen to Trump’s hair over the course of his presidency?

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I’m disabling comments because I just don’t have the time or energy to deal with them.

Update: Then I went and forgot to disable comments. Now they’re really disabled. 🙂

An Election Day Tale

Note: I published this on my gaming blog on November 8th. Here’s an archival copy.

This is a long tale of my voting experience this morning. I tried to keep it entirely non-partisan and focus on what I saw, heard, and felt, but if you don’t want to risk it, feel free to skip. (But in return, you have to read every other one of my posts for the rest of time! Just kidding.) I wrote this fairly quickly by my standards, and normally I would spend about four years editing something this long, but I wanted to post it before the results started coming in.

Election day, 2016. My alarm goes off at 5:40. The first sounds I hear when I wake up? Police sirens from the nearby highway. Interesting.

The polls open at 6:00. It should take me about 5 minutes to drive to the polling place. The sun’s not up enough at 6:00 for me to be comfortable driving to a place I’ve never been before, so I wait to time my arrival for about 6:30. I figure there will be a group of die-hards there at exactly 6:00 anyway, so it will give them time to clear out.

I get up, put on some clothes, and go. No coffee, no food, no nothing. I’ll be in there and out in no time. I get in my car and discover frost on the windshield. Oops. I turn on the car, turn on the vents, and go back inside for a few minutes to wait. I check to make sure I have all the right paperwork and check Google maps again to make sure I know where I’m going. (Going to new places makes me very nervous even on a good day.)

Back in the car. It’s still pretty dark. I drive past the neighbors from the end of the road, who are walking their dogs, and wave. Internally I curse them because one is one one side of the road, and the other is on the other side, so I have to drive between them and their dogs. Typical pedestrians.

Next I drive past the two houses in my neighborhood with Trump signs in their yards. One of them has two signs, the other has one. They are across the road from each other, so it’s like driving through a Trump checkpoint. It’s been like this for a couple of months. I’ve never met these folks, even though they live two or three houses up the road. (I’m not really a neighbor-meeting kind of person.) I’m sure they are nice folks, but I probably wouldn’t want to talk about politics with them. (Nor would I want to talk about politics with anyone who puts a Clinton sign in their yard, either. People who put political signs in their yards are probably incapable of having a rational discussion about politics.)

It’s entirely possible those Trump-sign folks could have been one of the die-hards waiting in line at the polling place at 6:00. I don’t know one way or another, and probably never will.

I have to cross a divided highway to get to my polling place. On a normal day, I turn left at this point to go to work. This dark, cold morning, I have to drive straight across four lanes of highway and enter the forested depths of the other side, where I’ve never been before. But first I have to wait behind three other cars, which is unusual. All three of them cross the highway to go where I’m going. A few other cars turn off of the highway to follow them into the deep, dark forest. Then it’s my turn.

It doesn’t take long to discover that I’m not going to be in and out of this polling place quickly.

The day before, I spent some time Googling, checking maps and Street Views to make sure I knew where I was going. Double- and triple-checking it actually. Because did I mention it makes me nervous to go to new places? It does. Anyway I noticed on the satellite image that there weren’t that many parking places around this small Baptist church where I will be voting. I counted 28.

That’s fine, I reasoned then. This polling place probably doesn’t serve that many folks. I don’t exactly live in a rural area, but it’s on the rural side of suburbia. The houses in my neighborhood are on at least one acre plots. It’s not like millions of people need to vote at this tiny church with 28 parking spaces. Still, I’m mentally prepared for having a hard time finding a parking spot among those 28 spaces.

I soon discover that I won’t even be making it to that parking lot. Cars are parked along both sides of the road leading to the church. I consider turning around and leaving. I start to do so, rationalizing that I would come back after work, when I see cars parked along a nearby side road. I change my mind and steer for the side road. I enter the subdivision and park in front of someone’s house, behind a long line of other vehicles which did the same.

I get out and start walking. It’s not that far, maybe a quarter of a mile to the church, if that. I’m not happy about this, but it’s better to get it over with in the morning than wait until after work.

I walk past the obligatory signs advertising all the candidates. There are more signs here than I’ve seen anywhere else combined. (The three Trump signs I mentioned above, along with two other Trump signs in other places, are the only yard signs I’ve seen all campaign, and I can only think of a single bumper sticker I’ve noticed.) There are no people accosting me, which is a relief. Too early, I suppose.

There’s a line outside the church on the sidewalk, so I go there. Immediately I hear a man ahead of me talking not-so-quietly about politics with his friend. (More like to his friend.) I’m instantly suspicious and worried. Behind those two is an exasperated-looking middle-aged woman with a shawl on. I saw this woman park somewhere behind me in the subdivision and walk to the church ahead of me. (I waited a bit inside my car to give her time to walk past me.) Behind her in line is a middle-aged black gentleman with earbuds on. Then there’s me. Behind me, another woman I’d guess to be around forty arrives with a child in tow, roughly six or seven. Or maybe three or fourteen. I don’t really know ages that well. He’s old enough to walk and talk and has some kind of gaming device in his hand and he’s coughing a lot.

This group of people is my life for the next hour and a half.

The loud political man talking to his friend isn’t overtly saying who to vote for, because that would be illegal. But he’s talking a lot about the general circumstances of the election and conspiracies and bringing up every fact and figure that he can think of and I get the impression he’s one of those people who tries to subtly plant seeds in voters’ minds while they wait in line. I’m pretty sure dozens of people could hear him talking. I think there’s a name for this kind “soft” influence but I can’t remember what it is. [Passive electioneering, I think.] It’s pretty common. It’s not illegal, but it’s in a gray area that’s basically impossible to enforce. If anyone presses this person, all he has to do is say, “I’m just talking to my friend.” As we get closer to the front of the line, I notice he gets quieter. I imagine it’s because he doesn’t want the poll workers to hear him.

It’s also possible he’s just one of those people who is incapable of having a thought without saying it out loud.

I find this person fascinating in a weird way. The more I observe, the more he becomes the absolute stereotypical picture of a mad conspiracy theorist. He’s dressed in a way that makes me think he repairs heat pumps for a living. He talks as if he’s not even aware that other people can hear him. He doesn’t wait for anyone to acknowledge what he says, he just keeps talking, almost non-stop. He talks about what he’s heard on television and radio, what he thinks of what he’s heard, historical figures and facts, and pretty much any subject you can imagine that might come from a conspiracy blog. But he’s not offensive about it. (To me, at least.) He’s just … verbose. He mentions Trump a few times (in particular his views on women), but not Clinton. Admittedly I’m trying to tune him out so I don’t hear every single word. I wonder if he has a mental illness. I wonder if he has some level of autism. At first I thought he was going to vote Trump but as time went on I changed my mind and pegged him as a Libertarian.

Later as I was leaving, I discovered that the conspiracy theory man was parked right in front of me in a white van. He did in fact work for some kind of repair service. He did not leave with his friend, so now I wonder if that poor guy just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Thankfully, the conspiracy theory man doesn’t turn around much to try to engage those of us stuck behind him. He mainly talks to his friend. Occasionally he interjects a comment into other conversations that happen around him (this happens later, when we’re inside). I don’t see him as a trouble-maker, just a bit off-kilter. The only thing about him that bothers me is the terrifying prospect that I might have to respond to him, which is a social anxiety thing.

While outside, a conversation sparks up between the woman in front of me and the woman behind me. I think they are bonding over having to listen to the conspiracy theory man at the crack of dawn when it’s cold. Since I’m directly between these two, I get roped into this conversation a little bit. I’m envious of the black man who wore ear buds, who is able to stay out of it. I try to smile and nod and be sympathetic to these women’s plight (I’m in it too, after all) while still sending signals that I really do not want to talk to strangers here. (I’m told I send these signals pretty much all the time in any situation.) The conspiracy theory man turns around occasionally to see what they’re talking about. I worry a lot that the conspiracy theory man will join the conversation and have totally opposing views, but that doesn’t happen.

During this brief conversational hell, I learn that both women are trying to vote before getting to work. (As am I.) They are both surprised at how long the line is, and wondering what the holdup is. (Me too.) That might have been the end of it, except the woman behind me decides to explain that she brings her kids to every election because it’s really important that they learn how to vote. Because “you have to do it.” I think to myself that’s not actually true, but I’m not going to say it out loud. She laments that she cannot bring her 16-year-old this year because you have to be 15 or less to accompany parents. Said 16-year-old apparently felt left out. But he’ll be voting next time. Yay for him.

At this point I have listened to this woman with her child for only a few minutes. I’ve already painted her with a broad brush and stereotyped her as one of those moms who talks to everyone, adults in election lines included, as if they are her children. Explaining things, teaching things, etc. The woman in front of me seems to abandon the conversation, possibly drawing the same conclusion. I was only in the conversation by the tiniest of threads to begin with, so I feel it’s okay to turn back to examining the color of paint on the side of the church, the large amount of mold growing in some areas of the walls and roof of the church, the gutter spout end that’s not quite aligned with the drain pipe below it, etc. Henceforth the only words I hear from the mother with child are said to her son, or into a cell phone, explaining to whoever was on the other end that no, she won’t be there in five minutes because she’s still going to be in line in five minutes. I heard a lot of cell phone conversations like that, actually.

Standing outside in the cold, we can see through the windows into the church narthex. (They are plain windows, not stained-glass or anything. This appears to be a recently-built church.) There’s a lot of people in there. Many of the outsiders comment on this, and collectively, our hopes of getting to vote once we reach the front door are dashed.

Time seems to lose all meaning. That kid is coughing a lot. Conspiracy man is talking a lot. My legs and hips and back remind me that I spend a lot of my time sitting–standing up is not my optimal position anymore. Finally we make it inside the doors. We go from near-freezing temperature to hot as hell in the span of a few steps.

At this point we see how far we have left to go. The line turns left immediately inside the door, snakes toward the left wall, then turns around, snakes back through the middle of the room all the way over to the right wall, then turns around again and snakes back to the left wall, where there is a door to the inner voting sanctum. It’s hard not to feel disappointment, because there’s a lot of people in here and this line is not moving very fast.

voting

Near the front door there’s a table with the usual assortment of items you’d expect to see near a church’s front door: Bulletins, pamphlets, bible study meeting flyers, etc. There’s one sample ballot sitting on top of everything, too. Above this table on the wall there’s a very Baptist-looking picture of pious Jesus, the kind that creeps you out the way he stares at you. (I apologize to any Baptists reading this, but I was brought up Episcopalian and we didn’t have creepy Jesus pictures watching us.) Nearby is a memorial plaque with the names of the church members who donated to pay for the pews, along with the names being memorialized. From my own experience with small churches, I suspect these are the names of the wealthiest and most influential members of this congregation.

There’s also a bottle of hand sanitizer on this front table. The conspiracy theory man uses it. Nobody else in my part of the line touches it.

It’s a nice church, I suppose. The narthex is pretty small and mundane, though. As I said I was raised Episcopalian and our churches tend to be as big and fancy as we can afford, with lots of stained glass and shiny gold plates and candlesticks and ornamentation. None of that exists here. It could be a government building.

At the point where the line curves the first time, there is a couch with a stack of yellow sample ballots on it. There are also a few other voting-related pamphlets. I take one of the sample ballots even though I’ve read up on the issues already. I’m still undecided on the county funding issues though. It’s what will affect me the most on this ballot, yet it’s also the most boring, dry reading imaginable. I read over the entire sample ballot, front and back, relieved to have an excuse to avoid looking anywhere else. I have a very detailed mental conversation with myself about the pros and cons of spending county money on various services. (I’ve seen no “simplified” explanations of these issues, though I think one of the pamphlets back on the couch may have explained it, but it’s behind me now.)

Some time later, we hear from a poll worker that one of the three computers is not working. This is the explanation for the “slight” delay.

Since the line snakes back and turns on itself twice, once I’m inside I get the opportunity to hear more conversations from other people in the line as we shuffle past each other. Most are innocuous, centering on the delay. (By this time the conspiracy theory man has quieted down.) Some neighbors recognize each other and say hello. (I’m not sure I would even recognize my neighbors if I saw them in this context, and I sure hope that anxiety-provoking issue doesn’t come up.) Some people are still trying to figure out how they should vote on the downballot issues. There are two state constitution amendments and five different county spending issues on this ballot.

I can hear the poll worker at the inner sanctum door reminding everyone periodically to have their photo identification ready. Poll workers occasionally make their way through the crowded room, asking if anyone needs curbside voting. I think to myself, it’s a bit late for that. I’m apparently not the only one to think that. There’s some murmuring about how the poll workers should be outside asking that.

A woman decides to use the restroom, the door of which I happened to be standing right next to at the time. When she comes out, I’ve moved about five feet forward. She comments a bit too loudly that it was a very large, luxurious restroom. There is some nervous laughter about that.

Two different elderly women at different times make their way through the crowd on walkers from the front door of the church to the door of the inner voting sanctum while I’m there. Everyone stands aside and helps them on their way. Both of them go inside the inner sanctum, vote, and leave while we’re standing in line.

At one point, I start hearing a man’s voice on my left talking somewhat passionately (but not loudly) in a political vein. I think he might be another conspiracy theory man, but he’s talking about Jesus and looking into hearts. Again, not telling anyone what to do, just sort of musing out loud. He sounds very much like a Baptist minister, in fact. He’s got the trademark compelling speaking style and sing-songy tone. I wonder if he’s the minister of this very church. He’s not wearing a suit, though, and I think all Baptist ministers are supposed to wear suits.

At another point I’m very surprised to hear an older gentleman who has a very obvious Russian (or I guess I should say Eastern European because I have no idea what actual country) accent. His voice is deep and resonant, and he’d be great at voiceover work. He seems understandably shy, but he’s answering questions from the women in front of him about his yard. I imagine the women are trying to determine if he’s a spy for Putin. Or maybe they just like his accent.

I’m struck by how many different cultural groups are in this room at the same time. There are blacks and whites, young and old, rural people and city people, men and women, religious people and conspiracy nuts, people who look wealthy and people who look poor, retired people, people hurrying to jobs, and people (presumably) in school. I saw one young woman who might have been Muslim. I don’t see any obvious Hispanics but I’m sure there are some around somewhere. (I am aware that I’m doing all of this racial profiling entirely based on looks and probably shouldn’t.) It’s kind of amazing to see, when you think about it. These are demographics that rarely intersect in the normal course of life. I’ve heard people express this sentiment about election lines before but it’s never really hit home with me until now.

Naturally I try to imagine how all of these people are voting. It’s hard to tell. According to Nate Silver, the men are voting for Trump, the women are voting for Clinton, but it’s never that simple. I’m sure the mother and child behind me are voting for Clinton, even though she hasn’t said. She just sounds like the kind of person who would not by shy about jumping in on Facebook to repudiate something Trump said. The shawl woman in front of me is a toss-up, giving away nothing. She’s old enough to have built up a long-standing hatred of the Clintons, so I wouldn’t bet on her either way. By this point I’ve concluded, based solely on the volume of odd political trivia that he knows, that the conspiracy theory man is voting for Johnson. (I guess it’s equally odd that I knew a lot of that trivia, too.) The black man with ear buds is giving no hints either, but statistically is probably voting for Clinton.

For myself, I’m trying not make eye contact with anyone and I remain completely blank-faced. Once or twice I accidentally meet somebody’s eyes and look away as if I’ve been shocked. I’m looking at the texture of the walls, I’m looking at the wood grain on the doors, I’m looking at people’s shoes. I’m also trying not to jump a mile in the air whenever the woman’s kid behind me accidentally touches me. I’m trying very hard not to think about all the people coughing and sneezing in this room.

In the final stretch of the line, I get to look inside the church itself, which is empty. The pews are made of light-colored wood, which I find strange because I’m used to dark-colored pews. It’s a very modern-looking, carpeted worship area. I don’t see anything like an organ, but it might be hidden somewhere. There’s band equipment up on the “stage,” where the altar would be in an Episcopal church. We don’t have bands in the front of Episcopal churches, but I’m pretty what I’m seeing here is normal for a Baptist church. I don’t catch too many details because I think the strain of remaining calm is starting to wear me out. I really want this to be over.

There’s a small sofa near the end of the line. This one’s not covered with papers, so some people sit down for a brief rest, but I stay standing. I know it’s probably going to hurt to sit down and get back up by this point.

Finally I get to the front of the line. The line to reach the inner sanctum, that is. There are more lines ahead, albeit much shorter ones. We are only allowed to enter the inner sanctum one at a time. There is a sign by the door that says no electronic devices are allowed inside, even though I’m pretty sure I read it was legal to take a selfie at the voting booth in Virginia. I don’t particularly care. I’ve already turned my phone off and left it in my pocket. I haven’t used it at any point. I thought about taking a picture of the mass of cars outside, but decided not to. I’m sure there will be plenty of footage of long-lines-at-polling-places on the local news. History will not forget this day because I didn’t take a picture. (Besides, I’m a little worried somebody will say something to me about it.)

The process of voting at this polling place is a little different than I’ve experienced before. I’ve used the little punch-out ballots where you use a little metal pen that looks like a circuit tester to punch holes in your choices, and I’ve used electronic voting machines where you tap the screen and get a mass of germs on your finger. This is the first time I’ve used a scanned ballot.

When a spot opens up, I’m directed to a table where I hand over my photo ID to a nice old lady. (The voter ID requirement in Virginia was added in 2012, I believe.) The nice old lady can’t pronounce my name, so I have to demonstrate it for her, which is the same routine I go through every single time I ever meet another human being. She doesn’t need to know anyway, as she types my name into a computer, and this is when I realize that this must be one of the infamous computers that isn’t working. Indeed, there are three computer stations at the table, and only two are occupied.

I wait anxiously for the nice old lady to read her computer screen, because this is the point in 2012 when I learned that the address on the driver’s license has to match the voting address records, and back then, I forgot to do that. (I am extremely bad at keeping records and licenses up-to-date.) This year, I am 159.8% sure that everything is correct, but I’m still very nervous about it, because I vividly remember leaving the polling place in 2012 feeling like the tiniest human being on earth, feeling like everyone was staring at me, feeling like I wished I could crawl into a hole and die. I was supposed to go back and get some additional paperwork or something, but I never did, because the thought of returning to that place on that day was just too mortifying. Such is life with social anxiety. (I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone about that, now that I think about it.) (Yes, I know I could have done this or that or the other thing and still voted. Go away.)

The nice old lady prints out a receipt from a little printer, hands it to me, along with my driver’s license, and now I can go get the actual ballot. I never actually read what was on that piece of paper, because I handed it to another woman roughly 10 seconds later. That receipt must have been in order because she gave me a white paper ballot with questions on both sides, roughly the size and weight of a piece of heavy A4-sized paper.

An usher directs me to a voting booth. It is not so much a booth as it is a tiny table that resembles the inside of a cube with two sides removed. There’s a writing surface there and a ball-point pen on a chain. There’s another booth on my left, and the black man with earbuds is voting there. It feels uncomfortably public for me despite being a private voting booth. Still, unless someone is standing right next to me they shouldn’t be able to see what I put on the ballot. For now, at least.

I use the pen to mark my selections. It’s like a Scan-Tron test from back in my school days. Fill in the circle next to your selection, staying inside the lines. I’ve never had to do this before when voting. I try to be careful so there’s no question about how I’m voting. It occurs to me that this is just about the most archaic possible way to vote in 2016, because I’m imagining that someone is going to pick this up at some point and look at it to count my votes.

Little did I know the high-tech machine that awaited me. After marking my ballot I move to another line with about five or six people in it. The conspiracy theory man is just ahead of me in this line, but he’s silent now. I realize I’m just standing right out there in the open where God and everyone could read my ballot if they really wanted to. I have never experienced this before. I try to hold my ballot against my leg so nobody could see it, but it’s two-sided, so that was basically impossible. I could not read anyone else’s ballot, so I consoled myself that nobody else could read mine. (Then again, I was deliberately trying to avoid doing that, and my eyes are horrible these days anyway.)

At the front of this line I have the honor of feeding my ballot into a machine of the modern age: A flatbed scanner. I watch my ballot slide inside the gullet of this machine and a verification message appears on the screen connected to it. I don’t see exactly what it said, but the poll worker thanks me for my vote, not-so-subtly indicating that I should get the hell out of the way for the next person.

As an IT worker in daily life, I naturally find myself deconstructing all of the infrastructure of this voting system. The entire process feels incredibly prone to errors. It occurs to me, though, that scanning a paper ballot has a built-in data backup of my vote selection. If the scanner doesn’t work for whatever reason, or its hard drive crashes, or whatever, they can always visually inspect my ballot later. They could also accidentally scan it four or four thousand times. One wonders if there is any software mechanism in place to prevent duplicate scanning of the same ballot. Do the ballots have serial numbers printed on them? That’s what I’d use if I were writing that software.

Anyway, at this point I’m done with this nightmare. I see that the conspiracy theory man is just leaving through a nearby exit door. Before I can leave, however, I must partake in the time-honored tradition of getting an “I voted” sticker from the oldest living woman in the precinct. I don’t know how they always get the exact same woman to give out these stickers in every single election I’ve ever participated in, but there she is, and I get a sticker. It’s fancier than the last one I got.

I walk slowly to the exit now, giving the conspiracy theory man plenty of time to get ahead of me, because I do not want to talk to him now. I want to flee this social hellscape. I also can’t help but notice that every one of the coughing, sneezing people back in that room has touched this door knob I’m using. When I get outside, I’m relieved to see the conspiracy theory man is well ahead of me. The sun is shining brightly, but it’s still pretty cold.

I walk back to my car, keeping a very safe distance behind the conspiracy theory man who is walking in the same direction, apparently in a great mood. I’m generally pleased with myself for sticking this out, but I feel like I’ve been punched repeatedly and then run over by a large truck. I navigate around cars and trucks trying to drive on the road packed with parked cars.

It turns out the conspiracy theory man leaves in a white van that was parked right in front of me. The woman with the shawl, who was parked behind me somewhere, appears to be gone, but it’s hard to tell because more cars have appeared in this area of the subdivision. I would hate to live there on a day like this. I collapse in my car, groaning from the pain in my lower back. I’m really out of shape. Weirdly, it hasn’t improved after aging and doing no exercise.

I arrived about 6:30, and I’m leaving about 8:00. I was standing up for an hour and half! On my feet! At least I wore my tennis shoes. When I get home I feel shell-shocked, but I’m very proud of myself for not freaking out and running for my life.

It takes me some time to regroup. I stare at Twitter for a while. I write some dumb tweets. I make a dumb picture showing the exact way that my voting line curved around in that room. Doing those things is soothing. Eventually I put on work clothes without taking a shower or even washing my face and go to work. I spend a lot of time there writing. 🙂

“Revolution”

This is exactly what I’m worried about:

Good on Mike Pence for challenging it. Kind of.

Using divisive rhetoric to win support is kind of double-edged sword. Pence can’t exactly say to the crowd, “I know we’ve been *saying* that demons will erupt from the earth to devour your children if Hillary is elected, but you guys know we’re only saying that so you’ll vote for us, right? We don’t actually *mean* it.”

On The Second Debate

Trump did better than expected in the second debate, better than the first debate, in my opinion. I’d probably call it a draw, in the sense that neither candidate wiped the floor with the other. Trump’s still struggling, but everyone expected (hoped, perhaps) he would implode–and he didn’t.

When I watch the debates, I’m purposefully trying to look past the surface stuff and see things that will get buried later. The media tends to focus on the more sensational things that happen, but I guess I’m more interested in the boring stuff.

For example, I noticed that Chelsea Clinton snuck into the friends box with Bill after the big introduction of the spouses. (She may have done this in the first debate too, but I didn’t notice.) The obvious conclusion is that she didn’t want to shake hands with the Trump crowd. I don’t remember anybody in the media mentioning that, but it might have something to do with this:

Later, we learned from a Washington Post article that Trump wanted to put those women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault into the Trump friends box, so that Bill Clinton would have to confront them on national television. A cunning plan, and the kind of power play you’d expect to see only on HBO’s House of Cards.

CNN’s post-debate coverage team lost their minds over Trump’s comments about appointing a special investigator to jail Clinton. I personally thought it was a laugh line (Trump is objectively better at comedy than Clinton), didn’t take it seriously, and I don’t believe he would or could follow through with it. The Clintons are a pretty big political force in this country and it seems like a bad business move to alienate them, regardless of party affiliation. On the other hand, if Trump doesn’t at least make a serious effort to follow through, his base could turn on him. (I’m pretty sure the left still hasn’t forgotten that Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay.)

Speaking of CNN and boring details, I was captivated by a guy in the background behind the analysts who kept walking around holding up a giant head of Wolf Blitzer on a stick. Every time the camera focused on a different analyst, the guy with the Wolf Blitzer head-on-a-stick walked into the background of the shot.

Back to the debate, Clinton did better at connecting with the audience questions, so maybe she won that handful of votes on the stage. The “town hall” format definitely favored her.

I thought most of the questions from the audience were shallow. Half of them amounted to, “Can’t you guys just be less terrible to watch?”

  • Do you think you’re being good role models?
  • What will you do to make Obamacare more affordable?
  • Can you be president to all Americans?
  • What would you look for in a Supreme Court Justice?
  • What’s your energy policy?
  • Can you name one positive thing about your opponent?

Of those, I only thought the Obamacare and energy policy questions were relevant. The Supreme Court question should have been blindingly obvious for anyone to answer: The Republican will nominate conservative justices, the Democrat will nominate liberal justices, and every case from now until the end of time will be a 5-4 decision with half the country hating the outcome.

I noticed that Clinton gave a weak answer to the WikiLeaks emails and then changed the subject to Russia.

Russia and our growing Cold War-style proxy war in Syria is my current concern du jour if you haven’t noticed from my previous posts. Clinton sent another pretty strong message opposing Russia propping up Assad and the Syrian government, while Trump suggested we should work with Russia to fight ISIS. That’s a pretty sharp contrast. (On that particular topic, I submit that Clinton might be farther right than Trump.) If you’re concerned about wars with foreign superpowers, it’s pretty clear that Clinton is more likely to lead us into a confrontation with Russia. (Or continue to lead us down that path, I should say.)

On the other hand, Trump is more likely to lead us into becoming a vassal of Russia. So pick your poison.

Then again, if you subscribe to the theory that if Trump is elected, Mike Pence will be running the country (which I kind of do), he’ll probably take an even more aggressive stance against Russia than Clinton. I believe he mentioned air strikes in the veep debate.

Trump’s answer on that last question about something they admired in their opponent sounded more sincere than Clinton’s.

I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out what the white ribbon on Clinton’s lapel meant. Couldn’t figure it out.

I’ve always liked Martha Raddatz so for me she has the journalistic and war correspondent cred to pull off her editorial remarks regarding warning the enemy about upcoming attacks. I probably wouldn’t have bought it from Anderson Cooper though. Overall I thought the moderators were okay, but I do think they went a little easy on Clinton until Trump started complaining.

Where do they get these debate audiences? Can they stop letting noisy partisans into them? If the debates are supposed to be for the American people, put them in an empty auditorium. I expect Trump is going to try to pack in even more partisans for his side in the last one.

One thing I’ve been wondering the last couple of days in the wake of all the Bill-Clinton-did-this and Trump-said-that, and after what seemed to be a clear theme in the audience questions: Should it be important for the American president to be a good role model for the kids? Electing someone based solely on whether you’d let your kids hang out with them seems … I don’t know … naive maybe? I’m not sure it’s healthy for a democracy to try to view their president through that lens. (I realize I’m basically making Trump’s argument here, but I’ve said before that he often has valid points, even if the way he makes them is, um, let’s say off-putting.)

On The Newest Trump Scandal

I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about the election, but here I go again, talking about everyone’s favorite emotional trigger.

Twitter exploded Friday night and Saturday with a new controversy over Trump saying some terrible stuff about women in a video from 2005.

My first reaction: I guess I’m confused. Didn’t everyone already know Trump was a horrible person and still nominated him for president? I mean, it wasn’t a secret. His very un-electability is exactly what appeals to his supporters.

So I guess I’m wondering why anyone (by which I mean all the people talking up the scandal on Twitter) thinks this scandal will suddenly be the one that brings him down.

If this scandal does sink Trump, it will give us a great indication of just how little America pays attention to the candidates prior to October. Because, I mean, seriously, this should not have been a surprise to anyone. Indeed, the general consensus among Trump supporters seems to go something like, “Yeah? So?”

By the way, WikiLeaks dropped a counter-scandal about Clinton (arguably, one considerably more substantive) this weekend, too, but it’s been pretty amusing to see how little traction it’s getting. One can imagine Julian Assange jumping up and down, wildly waving his arms around, screaming, “Look at this juicy dirt on Clinton! We worked really hard on getting this you guys! Guys? Anyone?” I see it pop up occasionally in a headline, but it’s typically buried in an avalanche of hundreds of Trump scandal headlines.

Anyway, many Twitter folks are calling for Trump to “step aside” or “step down,” but he can’t at this point. At least here in Virginia, he’s already on the ballot, and people have already submitted absentee ballots votes. If by some chance Trump withdraws, there would essentially be no Republican candidate, as whoever the party replaces him with would probably have to be a write-in with roughly zero chance of winning.

By the way, here’s a couple of nightmare scenarios to ponder: Trump wins the election and then has to resign or is impeached. Or, Trump withdraws, leaving Mike Pence at the top of the ticket, and Pence wins the election in a landslide because he’s more likable than Clinton. Either way, Mike Pence becomes president. Ultra conservative, pro-life, evolution-denying Mike Pence. If that happens, I’ll be directing a very sarcastic slow golf clap toward the American people. “Yay! We got rid of Trump! Oh, wait…”

Humor aside, I’m genuinely worried that we might be in the initial stages of an American civil war. All those Trump supporters (and they are not just a tiny fringe group) are not going to quietly accept a loss to the political establishment (both Republican and Democrat). They’re going to feel extremely disenfranchised (again!), and the only question is how they’re going to respond. They’ve been simmering since 2008.

One last thought: It’s really disturbing to see the number of people who believe that someone’s voting choice is equivalent to a personal attack. For example, I saw someone on Twitter have a melt down because someone they knew was voting for Trump, and felt personally insulted by it. I’ve seen it more than once, actually. I humbly submit that voting isn’t supposed to be like that. Just because you vote one way or the other doesn’t necessarily mean you have the same beliefs as the candidate. Given that we only have two viable choices, it’s statistically unlikely that anyone will have all of the same beliefs as either candidate. We have to pick out maybe one or two things in a candidate’s platform to agree or disagree with and hope for the best.

Okay one other last thought: I think one of the basic problems with political discourse in this country is the constant framing of one candidate as representing the destruction of a way of life (on Twitter, cable news, campaign ads, etc.). People believe that stuff, and they don’t forget. It’s going to have long-term consequences. People out there actually believe Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will destroy everything they know and love about their country. People on the losing side of these elections are increasingly going to get hostile about losing, thinking they’re in real danger, and eventually that hostility is going to turn into something bad. Protests in the streets. Riots, even. Police confrontations on a massive scale. Military involvement. That’s kinda how everything started in Egypt, Libya, and Syria.

Hopefully I’m just being paranoid and pessimistic.

Have fun watching the debate! Ahem, I mean, “debate.”

On The Veep Debate

Tim Kaine is a known quantity for me, since he was my governor and now he’s my senator. Granted I didn’t pay much attention to what he did, but that’s the kind of politician he is: He doesn’t make waves unless you’re into hyper-partisanship. I’ve always seen him as your basic run-of-the-mill politician, stamped out of the politician factory, with the party switch set on “Democrat.”

So my main interest in the veep debate though was sizing up Mike Pence, who I imagine we might be seeing run for president in 2020 or 2024 or both. (I mean, who else is there?) Pence is white and handsome and likable and articulate and funny … and very conservative … and lacks a southern accent. He’s the complete package. If the alt-right adopts him we’ll probably be seeing him again. (I actually don’t know what Trump supporters think of Pence.)

Kaine seemed out of his depth playing the role of attack dog. He’s not good at interrupting people and talking over people and acting like a jerk. Some people can get away with that (*cough* Trump *cough*) but Kaine’s not one of those people. Pence played it smart by playing the victim, although toward the end he started to sound a little whiny.

As for who won, I’d call it for Pence. He was the less annoying of the two. I think it was a mistake for Kaine to keep harping on the sound-bite gaffes that Trump has made. It made him sound like an Internet troll. Those gaffes are in the past now. Pence had an effective counter for it anyway: Essentially laughing it off as gossip that was beneath the dignity of him and the campaign and all of America, or turning it around with, “Okay, you got him, Trump isn’t a polished political speaker like the career politicians that you and Clinton are.” That’s probably the best and only way to handle that situation, and it’s fairly persuasive. I imagine that the kind of people who are seriously undecided, and seriously looking for how to vote, would be turned off by Kaine’s continual return to diversions from policy. A serious undecided voter (by which I mean someone who genuinely cares about making the “right” decision) would be looking for substance, and I think Pence did better there.

Then again, he did dodge a lot of questions about his boss. “I’m happy to defend Trump! Let’s talk about Russia.”

Speaking of which, this time, I noted that it was the Republican ticket bringing the hammer down on Russia. (No pun intended.) Pence said a lot of strong words against Russia, whereas Kaine was mostly all like, “Did you guys hear what Trump said about Putin?” During that discussion it seemed pretty clear that if Trump is elected, Pence will be handling the foreign policy while Trump works on negotiating trade deals and building walls and tweeting at 3 AM. Which again reminds me of your friend and mine, Dick Cheney, who had a big hand in Bush’s administration (that’s historical fact now, isn’t it?).

Elaine Quijano did a much better job as moderator than Lester Holt, or at least tried to. The questions were definitely better. It would be nice if the debate commission would figure out a way to stop the cross-talking though. The easiest solution would be to give the moderator some buttons to turn off microphones after the time limit. But I doubt that’s going to happen. The television sound engineers wouldn’t allow it, for one thing. Anyway it would just end up being distracting. I vaguely remember one year there was an actual “shot clock” that would count down and then buzz when time ran out. It didn’t make for great television, and the candidates just made fun of it.

I was a bit surprised to hear in the pre-debate spiels that among the list of sponsors for the debate was one Anheuser-Busch. I wondered what big corporations could possibly get out of sponsoring debates, but apparently they get free tickets to sit in the audience and (maybe) talk to the candidates. So if you were wondering who those people were in the audience, that’s who they are. Rich CEOs.

The debate had a lot less impact on Twitter (outside of political spheres) than the first presidential debate. Hardly any memes evolved. Which I take to mean that in the end, the debate didn’t matter at all, and it won’t change the election in any way.

And finally, here’s my public service announcement again: Don’t forget to read up on what else is on the ballot. It’s more than just the presidency. Somebody might be trying to change your state constitution. Google for your state’s election board or whatever.

On The First Debate

I don’t even know what to say about that debate. In the first five or ten minutes, I thought for sure that Trump was going to be the next president. Clinton started awkwardly, and Trump killed.

Then the rest happened.

I’ll be honest. Monday night was the first time I watched either candidate in action. Previously, I had only read reports about them, or seen the occasional clip on a news or comedy show.

I was not prepared for the full force of The Donald. Once he went off-script, he mutated into somebody’s crotchety old grandfather, yelling at the television news, not caring in the slightest who hears him. And it’s not like it was a one-off occurrence. He kept doubling-down on it.

Still, there’s a little part of me that thinks, “Wow, it’s refreshing to see somebody running for office who doesn’t care about political correctness.”

I can see why he’s been successful. As, ahem, let’s say “unorthodox” as he is, he makes valid points. I don’t know a thing about trade deals, but I’d be inclined to agree that America’s aren’t great. And it is good business to buy property when the housing market crashes, if you’ve got money laying around. It is smart to avoid paying taxes, if you’re a billionaire. The problem is you can’t say those things in a nationally-televised debate when you’re trying to become president! He’s not trying to win the vote of billionaire CEOs, he’s trying to win the votes of undecided millennials, who mainly just want to hear that the rest of their lives won’t be one constant, meaningless struggle to pay bills.

Clinton had her share of cringe-worthy moments, too, by the way. Every time she tried to be funny, for instance. You could tell when she switched back and forth between rehearsed material and off-the-cuff remarks. I think she may have lost some male votes with that “he’s a bully to women” bit at the end, and it wasn’t even necessary by that point.

I still stand by my previous observation. Clinton is the devil we know, and Trump is the devil we don’t know. And there’s several others running if you don’t want either devil.

I came away with two other lasting impressions. The first is that I completely underestimated Mike Pence. I saw him sit down on CBS for a few minutes and deliver some world-class spin about how well Trump did. That guy seems pretty smart and, more importantly, personable. I don’t get why he isn’t the Republican nominee. I need to read more about him. I wrote before that he’s no Dick Cheney, but I’ll be damed if he doesn’t act exactly like Dick Cheney. (In the sense that he acted like an all-powerful puppet master, staying away from the spotlight, the kind of person who could do some serious damage as a vice president.)

The other surprise came from Clinton: I felt like she really threw down a gauntlet against Russia with some harsh words about cyber attacks. “And we’re going to have to make it clear that we don’t want to use the kinds of tools that we have. We don’t want to engage in a different kind of warfare. But we will defend the citizens of this country.” (From transcript.) Those sound like pretty strong words, and they didn’t come from Trump.

P.S. I thought it was pretty smart that Jill Stein went and got herself escorted away by police. Good publicity stunt. Where was Gary Johnson, eh? (Probably off trying to learn some geography.) And the other Independent guy whose name I don’t even know? More missed opportunities there.