Political Memo: Bipartisan Consensus: Everyone Is Anxious About the Election – The HabariTimes Online
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Political Memo: Bipartisan Consensus: Everyone Is Anxious About the Election

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Political Memo: Bipartisan Consensus: Everyone Is Anxious About the Election

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The question was not rhetorical.

“What the hell has happened to our country?” Steven Glassman, a local city commissioner, shouted at perspiring Democrats last week — kick-starting a parking-lot rally that would include police intervention during a shoving match over National Rifle Association signage; a conspiracy theorist with a bullhorn taunting a former United States attorney general; and a sway-along version of “We Are the World” that felt ironic in hindsight.

“What the hell has happened?”

Well.

It is Election Day 2018, the one so many have been waiting for, the one so many cannot bear to see arrive, lest hope be supplanted by more despair.

And a campaign season’s journey across a cleaved America makes plain that the state of our union is:

“Anxious,” Yadhira Barrios, 39, said in Spanish between canvassing door-knocks along an immigrant-heavy Orlando cul-de-sac.

“Anxious,” Sandra Dennis, 76, said at a Republican rally some 50 miles northeast, worrying aloud that Tuesday could undo all the good she believed President Trump had done.

“Just really anxious,” Aalayah Eastmond, 17, a survivor of the Parkland massacre, said from a park bench across from the school. She tugged at a bracelet broadcasting the date she has kept top of mind since the bullets crashed into her History of the Holocaust class.

“Nov. 6.”

Over dozens of interviews across the country in recent days, Americans reported a kind of emotional pinballing about the verdict to come, the faith and dread taking turns like kids on a diving board.

Yet there is something reassuring about a day with manifest stakes, about a Tuesday that will matter for many Tuesdays to follow. The urgency, and perhaps nothing else, is a matter of bipartisan consensus.

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Aalayah Eastmond, 17, a survivor of the Parkland massacre.CreditScott McIntyre for The New York Times

“The character of this country is on the ballot,” Barack Obama thundered in Miami, whipping up Democrats.

“I’m on the ballot,” President Trump reminded an audience in Mississippi, warning off complacency.

In snapshots from state to state, the scale of the moment can get lost at times, burrowed among the typical campaign fare.

The squeal of an Ohio union hall’s metal chairs, dragged across the linoleum for a morning meet-and-greet.

The dust kicking up in Montana, caking a candidate’s boots as he stomps through the stump speech applause lines.

The hokey roadside slogans of Florida, meant to be consumed well over the speed limit. (“Say Cheese,” one sign pleaded, for a circuit court candidate named Cheesman.)

Sometimes, the optimism has muscled through, sustaining political old-timers and newcomers who in the last two years have marched and countermarched, volunteered and pleaded with friends, filled town-hall forums for incumbents and fresh faces — many female and nonwhite — to hear their voices carry.

The left sees a civic awakening that would not have arrived without Mr. Trump’s victory, even if most of them would gladly exchange it for a Hillary Clinton presidency.

“I don’t care if I lose clients,” said Lynne Jones, an interior designer raised in burning-red Paducah, Tex., wedging a stack of Beto O’Rourke signs into her car over the summer, part of what she described as the most serious political engagement of her 62 years. “Politics is a dirty business, I’m discovering.”

DeSantis supporters during a rally in Orlando.CreditScott McIntyre for The New York Times

The right speaks with gratitude for a White House dream realized.

“We believe he’s sent from God,” Kathy Kiely, 67, said of Mr. Trump from a mall food court in Prescott, Ariz., “to bring us back to where we used to be, and where we can be.”

More common, though, are the darker appraisals: of enemies real and imagined, of what awaits us if the national rupture remains.

“History always repeats itself,” said Robert Brock, 42, a Trump-supporting truck driver in South Daytona, Fla., forecasting a kind of modern civil war between conservative and liberal. “People aren’t realizing that.”

In flashes, the race’s final weeks have lurched from abstract menace to notes of genuine violence. Mail bombs targeted Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponents. The president praised and re-enacted a congressman’s assault on a reporter, to cheers and laughter inside a Montana airplane hangar. He suggested that the military should fire upon migrant rock-throwers at the southern border.

And inside the Volusia County Republican office, where Mr. Brock spoke of looming combat after a rally for the statewide ticket, gunshots had shattered a front window last week, piercing a poster with the president’s surname. By the weekend, the sign was up again, with a hole visible just above the “R” — a message to whomever had done this, to whomever doubts the tenacity of the president’s people.

“It’s a reminder,” Mr. Brock said. “We’re not going to go away.”

Historians have reached for parallels lately and generally found them wanting. There is a measure of the ’60s-style upheaval and hazard, they say, and some midterm echoes from 1994 or 2010. But the divisions feel deeper, harder. The cement is drying.

“One of the great things about America is it’s in a state of constant reinvention,” said Jon Meacham, the author of books on Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson and George H.W. Bush. “Great leaps in the life of the country — great innovations, great changes in the American story — have all been about people being curious and being inventive and striking out for the territories, both literally and figuratively, as Huck Finn did.’’

“Right now,” he concluded, “Huck Finn is just watching Fox and getting madder.”

It is maybe no surprise, then, that so many Americans have defaulted to cynicism, their case buoyed by social media toxins and the lesser-of-two-evil decisions they say they are often forced to make at the ballot box.

Cutouts of donkeys with the names of campaign volunteers in Richardson, Tex.CreditTamir Kalifa for The New York Times

At a women’s rally in New Jersey on Sunday — where Senator Bob Menendez, who escaped federal corruption charges last year, danced Cuban salsa with a state legislator — local Democrats sounded occasionally like patients in a medical office, identifying electoral side effects.

“I feel awful. Really awful,” said Nancy Freedman, 55, from Watchung, N.J. “I think it’s an awful time in America. Yeah.”

At an exhibition center in Cleveland, Jewel Kingsley, 35, offered this endorsement of Mike DeWine, the Republican candidate for governor.

“I hate him,” she said, wearing two pro-Trump pins. “I hate Democrats more.”

Yet still the exceptions persist, the sunnier emissaries of the democratic process — foolish enough, like Huck rafting the river, to believe it might all be fine.

At the parking-lot gathering in Fort Lauderdale — before the N.R.A. sign skirmish, before the bullhorn interruptions — Delores Thompson, 65, from Sunrise, Fla., stood near the back with an “I Voted Early” sticker pressed against her top, beside a young girl in a “FEMINIST” T-shirt playing with her hair.

Ms. Thompson’s candidate is Andrew Gillum, she said, the man who would be Florida’s first black governor, the reason she had come to stand in the heat.

And a change was coming to America. She was almost sure of it.

“It’s time,” she said, squinting a bit.

It is time, at least, to find out.

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