Our household, like every home with one or more Americans in it, and plenty of other homes besides, had been subdued and glum in the days before and after the November 3 election. Anticipation and uncertainty, followed by more anticipation and uncertainty. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Is this going to court? What are the margins? Every time I looked at my phone the NYT app indicated about 128 updates. What states are still up for grabs? Why can’t Nevada count? Looks like Arizona was called prematurely. And so on.
Yesterday we planned to go to a friend’s house in the countryside to help collect chestnuts. I happen to love chestnuts and rue the unfortunate demise of our chestnuts in America, lost a century ago to disease. Chestnuts seem to me to be well-packaged gifts from Nature of abundance and sustenance. Their miniature leathern purses; the light monk’s tonsure atop each one, where the forest urchin was affixed before it split and fell away, releasing the nut. Alas, it was not to be, as Eleanor pitched a rare fit, threw all the books everywhere, and cried herself into a top-bunk nap. Victor and I opted for a sunny two-mile stroll through town, getting some shopping done for Jason’s birthday at the end of this week. At first Victor was quiet, stricken by Eleanor’s dramatic scene, but eventually calmed down and turned chatty with me. For his pains he was rewarded with a €4,50 mega ice cream cone, in the very European Kinder Egg flavor, which he said made him feel like he was floating through time and space. He polished it off in Piazza Santissima Annunziata and threw the cone away, while I spied a glowing chapel at the corner which I’d never seen before, and so of course I went in to be nosy and take a couple of pictures.
At home Eleanor was still slumbering in the top bunk, bangs plastered to her face by stress and sweat. I refreshed my news again. No news. Jason and I talked about when late numbers might come in. An update on my scroll said a pile of votes had just come in from Pennsylvania, putting the election outside of their margin for a mandatory recount (<0.5%). I looked at my screen again. “What!” I exclaimed. “How can Biden be up to 270 electoral votes but the election not yet be called.”
“Maybe refresh your screen,” Jason calmly recommended.
I did so. The 50-point font immediately flipped, BIDEN BEATS TRUMP. I too now felt as though I were floating through time and space, stress released, my inner cortisol drip of the stress hormone extinguished. We had a celebratory dinner of steak frites and a glass of Bolgheri. A moment of hope. Phones went off as excited messages began to fly. Hope is the thing with feathers! Relieved Italians sent well wishes and thank you notes. The world thanks America for this result. I am not kidding. The world. Everyone was rooting for the American People in this one.
But, in many ways, this is just the start of the hard work. As a country we cannot just keep grabbing the ball more and more violently from one another every two years. Can we work on Electoral College reform?Are there two Americas, and can they live under the same roof? Can a privileged class see and understand the damage done in their name to an underclass? Can we right historic wrongs, while educating one another on what those were and how they impacted people and populations? Democrats lost seats in the US House; key state legislatures that were hoped, expected to flip didn’t flip at all. Texas and Florida more entrenched. Michigan and Wisconsin living up to their swing state monikers.
It’s a rowdy mix, and yet let’s not forget, it is not a game. People’s lives are impacted. Real harms are ongoing to POC, the poor, to the middle class. Healthcare access continues to be a huge problem. Americans can’t save money not because they’re lazy, but because the rent is too damn high in America. Everyone is always out to earn more, seeking a sense of security, chased by bills in a country where food, childcare, healthcare, and retirement are inestimable costs, impossible to predict and wildly vacillating. And no one loves to change jobs because all your private benefits change, but oh, it is worth it to be on track for a little more money each year … America, this is exhausting. It’s no way to live.
This election feels a lot like childbirth: a tenth-month marathon of pregnancy followed by the two-year toddler marathon. I think we’re all still in the hospital, giddy with a newborn, but reality will soon sink in. And hope. A baby presents much hope, along with much work. We’ve done it before. We’re strong. We’re each a parent of this Republic, so buy some coffee and figure out how you’re going to get through this.