In the final days of presidential campaigns, it is American tradition to ask, Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago?
This year, how about we add a few: Are you happier than you were 4 years ago? Sleeping well? Getting along with your neighbors? Confident in the health of your family, in your opportunities? Have the last 4 years brought you joy?
The last time I went to a University of Kentucky football game, our seats were in the visitors’ section. Enemy territory, we joked. No big deal. I was with my 30-something son and a friend of his. Let’s call the friend Jake. Jake is one of those super-fans. He lives for game day and gets het up over every play, every possession. In the first half UK played well. Jake was happy. But after halftime, as the visiting team put more and more points on the board and it became clear we would likely lose, Jake grew visibly angry, making it a point to turn around and glare and jeer at the visiting team’s cheering fans.
When Jake started screaming obscenities at an elderly gentleman a few rows behind us, I’d had enough. We made for the exit and then endured one of those long, silent walks to the car, the kind where one person has ruined everyone’s night and we all just want to survive the drive home. It was Jake who finally broke the silence. I figured he was going to apologize. I was wrong. “Well that sucked,” he said. “Worst night of my life.”
I tell you this story because this is what our politics feels like in 2020. Hateful, angry, jeering. We are no longer Republicans and Democrats with healthy policy differences. We are winners or we are losers. We are good vs. evil. We are on the right team or the wrong team. And being on the wrong team in enemy territory can be scary. When I asked a friend on the main road to town why she hasn’t put a Biden sign in her yard, she said, “Because our bedroom is in the front of the house and people aren’t only stealing signs, they’re shooting them up.”
In these last weeks before the election — as we pass 220,000 Americans dead from a virus for which he has still offered no plan for mitigation — the president has shared no plans and no policies for the next 4 years. He has, instead, held large, reckless rallies, calling his opponents and the press criminals, his crowds chanting, Lock her/him up! about every perceived “enemy” from Joe Biden to Gretchen Whitmer, the Governor of Michigan who was targeted by homegrown terrorists with detailed plans to kidnap and execute her.
Last weekend, as his army of supporters chanted “Lock her up!” about Whitmer, the president responded, “Lock them all up!” And the crowd went wild.
When asked why her father-in-law would condone such language following the FBI foiling a plot to kidnap and assassinate an American governor, Lara Trump dismissed it. “He was having fun at a Trump rally,” she said.
Yes, I thought. Fun. The president was having fun the same way Jake was having fun at that UK game. Opponent as enemy.
I’ve been re-reading Clear Springs, Kentucky Hall of Fame author Bobbie Ann Mason’s 1999 memoir. In the final pages are these words: “Lately she had been reviewing her life, reflecting on the hardships she had endured. She bridled at the way the women always had to serve the men. The men always sat down in the evening, but the women kept going. Why had the women agreed to that arrangement? How had they stood it? What if she had an opportunity for something different?”
How have we stood these last 4 years? Since when does an American of any political party agree to an arrangement in which our president cheers for the imprisonment of a perceived opponent? When did “Lock her up!” become funny?
Four years on, are you happier, sleeping better? Do you respect your neighbor, no matter the sign in their yard? Are you joyful, or have the Trump years turned you into some version of Jake, unapologetically angry? Do you want 4 more years of this?
To paraphrase Ms. Mason, this is our moment to reflect, an opportunity for something different.