Light at the end

On the first day of early voting, I was exchanging plans for the weekend with a young clerk at the grocery store. I told her I was looking forward to my next stop, the voting booth. Her mood darkened and she mumbled something about the election being rigged. She seemed reluctant to say any more, but I asked her to explain why she thought that was possible, expecting to hear something about the power of dark money or biased media coverage.

But instead, her words tumbled out about Bernie and all his stickers and posters around Reno during the caucus, and how everyone she knew voted for him, yet he still lost. She wasn’t too interested in my explanation of the population differences between Reno and Las Vegas or voting percentages. She told me not to worry, that she would vote, but not for Hillary or Trump.

I left the grocery store saddened by her determination to believe the system is rigged because her candidate lost. It seemed emblematic of this election cycle where nearly everyone I know is angry and worn out by the endless cycle of nasty campaigning, especially at the presidential level. Blatant repeated lies, unbelievable insults, and a lack of meaningful policy debate have cheapened our democracy, reducing it at times to a farcical political level we imagined in other countries but never our own. It’s been humbling.

But when I got to the early voting site, all of that was erased by the long line of happy people waiting to cast their ballots, coupled with a surprising efficiency from poll workers moving things along. The poll watchers sat off to the side talking quietly, paperbacks in hand. No one questioned anyone’s ID. The line manager told me that earlier in the day the queue extended up and down several aisles of the grocery store but no one complained. The voters were diverse, with quite a few young people clutching their sample ballots, watching the procedure a bit nervously.

Later in the evening, I had dinner with visitors from California who spent the weekend canvassing in a pre-arranged Get Out The Vote effort. They were paired with local community organizers, all of whom spoke Spanish and knew their turf well. Their stories were funny and inspirational, especially their encounters with first-time voters from Latino communities who seemed awed and empowered by their ability to vote this year.

Early vote numbers have been encouraging for progressives, with record-breaking turnout that seems to bode ill for Trump, and supporters of his brand of reality-TV politics. I’m hoping that perhaps even Republican women are silently crossing partisan lines to repudiate Trump with their individual votes cascading to a potential landslide that will hopefully force the Republican party to reshape itself into a modern movement that respects the constitution again.

Trump may or may not have the billions he says he has, but I think most of America believes he’s had far more than his warranted 15 minutes of fame as we’ve grown weary of the boasting and narcissistic behavior. Trump’s supporters have said they want their country “back,” but that’s not possible in a world of ever-changing demographics and evolving standards. For the rest of us, Trump’s embodiment of white male entitlement is a world we are glad our country is leaving behind.

As women, blacks, Latinos, Muslims and good people of every faith cast their votes, it can be a cathartic experience of proving that we are everything Trump is not. In his defeat, we can be unified in our desire to find a way forward where political differences are freely expressed in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust instead of hateful exploitative rhetoric.

Your vote is your voice. Use it.