By Julie Freestone and Rudi Raab
Last week, we had some leftover pumpkin lasagna. It’s a dish we serve at least once a year when we have a ballot review gathering. We’ve been doing these sessions just before every election (and sometimes that means June and November) to go over issues. The leftovers reminded us that we had gotten together with about a dozen people just before the California primary election to seek help in deciding which candidate we wanted to select. It seems like it happened so long ago on another planet. Certainly in another reality.
Remember the primary?
Another thing about that pre-primary gathering. We tried to invite people who would support each of the Democratic candidates. It wasn’t hard to find someone among our friends working for Bernie or Elizabeth. And there were a few people who were leaning toward Mayor Pete and Amy Klobuchar. One person said she thought she’d vote for Bloomberg. That was a about it.
We asked at the beginning of the two-to-three hour meeting who had already made up their mind with only a few weeks to go. We think there were a few people who might have already mailed in their ballot. Among the 10-12, only a few raised their hands. And at the end, only a few more had made up their minds. One more point about this. After supporters presented arguments for why to vote for Bernie, Elizabeth, Pete or Amy, we asked if anyone wanted to discuss the other candidates (Bloomberg, Biden, Yang and whoever else was still in. Who remembers?). No one did.
Ambivalence was true for us. We went to our polling place, about a 10-minute walk and debated who we thought had the best chance. Our friend Janet in Nevada had argued for weeks that no one should be voting for the person they thought best represented their values and positions. She was laser focused on who could beat Trump. Period. On the other hand, Rudi’s son, who came to visit in February before the primary (and the pandemic), said he and his wife were having the same discussion and one of them felt the primary was precisely the time to back the candidate who would push for policies and programs you wanted down the road.
And then there were the debates
And then reaching even further back in time, we dimly recall the debates. Remember them? There were so many candidates that there had to be two nights to give them all a chance. We had guests who had long planned to come and visit – remember that concept? (Visit: people arrive, they walk into the house, you share food, they stay in your guest room. They use your bathroom?) Anyway, when we realized they’d be here on debate nights, we all agreed we would have a party. Most of us were glued to the TV and we made a game of trying to decide who we wanted to support.
Our activist surrogate granddaughter, Lizzy, kept switching her allegiance. She had already met Bernie and Elizabeth in person. She really liked the way Mayor Pete and Amy performed on stage. We all felt the same way.
And another one bites the dust
So as the days or weeks went by, it almost became a moot point. One by one, after each primary, another person dropped out. Julie felt foolish having said for a number of weeks that Biden was toast. Somehow, we’d ended up with a presumptive Democratic candidate that no one, at least among our circle of friends, considered viable or exciting or reflective of their values. So be it. We’d suck it up and work as hard as we could to defeat DJT. That was the goal. There was talk of going to Arizona to canvass. Julie signed up for a class called Election 2020, offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She had taken one in 2017 called “the First Hundred Days.” It was supposed to take a scholarly look at what President Hillary Clinton was doing against the backdrop of American history.
Academia and Reality
The six-week class was riveting and Julie blogged about it every week. Dr. Darren Zook said he’d never had to teach a course where he’d revised his notes multiple times before each lecture. Watching Donald Trump perform and having an informed, articulate, knowledgeable scholarly comment on it was extraordinary. She expected Zook’s Election 2020 class to be equally as riveting.
But then the pandemic happened. The class went virtual and very academic. There was little actually discussion of current events. It was an excellent overview of elections in a democracy, the principles of a democracy and what was reasonable to expect …we’ll get to that in a minute. But an analysis of the run-up to the 2020 election it mostly wasn’t. No mention of potential Supreme Court decisions (faithless electors for example) and how they might affect the outcome of the election. No mention of how the incompetent and misleading daily statements from DJT might impact voters.
In fairness to Dr. Zook, it would be hard to reach the level of excitement, confusion and consternation that the first course offered. And especially when one of the key players had practically disappeared. Joe Biden is in his basement in Maryland. And he seldom emerged during the six weeks of the class. Dr. Zook did raise the question of what would happen if Biden for whatever reason didn’t become the nominee. “If Joe Biden has to withdraw, then who? Will someone emerge as a challenger?” He also speculated about whether DJT might replace Vice President Pence with another candidate. Those were intriguing and unsettling thoughts.
Dr Zook did said several reassuring things that we might all want to consider. We are not conspiracy theorists. We get goose bumps when someone suggests that DJT could decide to cancel the election in November or refuse to leave office if he loses. But we haven’t really believed those things might happen.
According to Dr. Zook, they can’t happen. DJT cannot cancel the election. He cannot extend his term. He can’t unilaterally deploy the military to address domestic issues. He can’t deploy the National Guard without the declaration of an emergency by Congress.
The bottom line
Dr. Zook called himself an optimist who believes that American democracy can be reclaimed. He said he had deliberately tried to be nonpartisan as he attempted to provide some deep knowledge about the foundation of our country. He acknowledged “tremendous uncertainty,” requiring that we rethink everything. He said he felt it was his job to challenge everyone, including himself.
We don’t see that as our role. We write blogs about random things, some serious, some playful. Sometimes we comment on things that make us angry. We don’t really feel we’re in a position to provide lofty analyses.
We hope the election happens on time. We hope people can vote by mail so we don’t exacerbate the pandemic. We hope American voters pay attention to what counts: strong leadership; the truth, rational decision making; compassion for others and the generosity we’ll need to see our way to recovery of our lives and the economy.
Rudi Raab and Julie Freestone like to vote in person. They take pride in voting and in having a community of friends who are committed to social justice and democracy. They try to be optimistic about preserving the principles that are the foundation of America.