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Truths We Hold To Be Self-Evident: A Facebook Tone Poem for Election Day

I remember going with my mother to vote when I was a little girl. Our polling place was my elementary school, its wide-windowed, wax-floored gymnasium colonized overnight with the old New York voting booths. They were arranged in a ring like covered wagons, huddled around the campfire of some mysterious democratic process. I wonder if I complained: But why do I have to go to school when I don’t have to go to school? I do remember my mother hustling me into the booth, no doubt a little impatiently, and pulling its cloth curtain closed with an efficient shhhhhink. I remember thinking it was all very Wizard of Oz, remember her guiding me through her votes, letting me flip the lower-down switches I could reach, letting me pull the giant lever when she was finished. I look back on that now as one of the countless number of kindnesses handed down to us, my brother and I, by my parents. Who my mother ever voted for, I don’t remember at all.

Romney hasn’t been this nervous since someone slipped him a cappuccino.

This year, on the day before Election Day, I went out to lunch with my parents. We ate hamburgers and drank beer and wondered why Chris Christie would pose for those hand-clasping photos with Obama four days before the election.
Those photos probably did more good for Obama than the whole rest of his campaign combined.
They’ll be political gold when Christie runs for president in four years.
Then my mom and I disagreed about things.
For forty cents of every dollar spent by the government to be borrowed money is just untenable.
Okay, but I still don’t even know what Mitt Romney stands for.

My dad bought lunch, and I didn’t put up too much of a fight—I didn’t want my rent check to bounce. We sat there finishing the dregs of our beers while my mom used the restroom, and right then I remembered one Saturday morning in the eighties: my brother and I sitting at the kitchen table, my dad helping us funnel his old Pennsylvania Dutch cookie tin of spare change into a noisy sorting machine, helping our little fingers seal up the paper tubes of change, taking us down to Key Bank in the cold Volvo, opening our first savings accounts.

Let’s keep the empty threats to move to Canada to a minimum.

Forty cents borrowed of every dollar spent could also describe the spending habits of my twenties. I lived in New York City for a few years after graduating from college and while I was there I used my credit card to pay for five dollar coffees and twenty-five dollar pedicures and 200 dollar bar tabs. I rolled my empty glass between my palms and thought about the debt I had racked up, the bailout I had received from my parents, the austerity measures under which I now operated. My own private Eurozone. I hadn’t had a pedicure in six months. I felt like I deserved a sobriety chip. I felt like an asshole, and not for the first time.

America can’t take four more years 🙁 praying for our country as the results come in

My friends and I sent texts back and forth.
Liz. Come to NYC this weekend. We will all be there.
Dammit. That is tempting.
You can come to soul cycle. Commmmmmmmmmmme
I can’t. I gotta save that $$$$$$
But YOLO, Liz. YOLO.
My niece has a YOLO shirt from Wings at the beach.
The YOLO attitude is what got me in $10,000 worth of credit card debt, unfortunately.
Talk to me when you owe $100,000+ for an MBA you really didn’t take very seriously.
(But the diploma is fancy.)

I wondered about us, my friends, my generation: about our continued dependence, even as thirtysomethings, on our parents, our apparent inability to afford everyday life, our simultaneous freewheeling money spending. Though it is not an ideal, living on borrowed money is our norm. Our grandparents might recoil in horror at Obama’s spending habits, but in them much of my generation sees the behavior of someone just like ourselves, or in any case much more like ourselves than tax-sheltered, never-has-to-worry-about-a-rent-check-bouncing Romney. Obama is, in other words, the kind of guy with whom we could have a beer. (As long as the bar takes Mastercard, of course.)

Ky and Vt results are in. Romney is winning so far!

I wondered if our financial behavior was the result of:
a newly malicious kind of economy;
it being only human nature to rely upon a safety net when one is provided;
the general failure of the American educational system;
or merely our constantly prolonging average life spans.

Is our apparent fiscal immaturity an inherently bad thing? Or just an inevitable social side-consequence of advances in medicine and hygiene, of the elongating not only of life but of life’s stages? What’s so wrong with moving back in with your parents after college? So wrong with still being on the family cell phone plan at age thirty? Don’t Italian men live with their mothers indefinitely? Isn’t this just the latest iteration of what families have always done: circle up, protect and support and care for each other? Won’t I care for my parents, someday? Isn’t that the ultimate goal?

YEEAAAAA!!!!!! My vote in SC was not wasted by the electoral college.

On Election Day, the thermometer in my car read forty-five degrees. Forty-five degrees shouldn’t feel so cold to someone who grew up in upstate New York—but, it did. When you stand in line for two hours in wet gym clothes in forty-five degree weather, you get cold. (You will only have yourself to blame.) Your hands and feet go pins-and-needles numb and when you get home you will have to stand under a hot shower for twenty minutes to regain sensation in those extremities. You will stand under the water and you will think about your friends in New York who have no heat, no hot water, no electricity, because of Hurricane Sandy, and you will feel full of worry.

Pray for our country. PRAY HARD!

My polling place turned out to be this charter school at one end of my street that has been undergoing a massive remodeling for the last six months. From the street, the line to vote looked short. But once we were in it, we could see that it wended a long way back through the construction site. We queued alongside a chain-link fence that ringed the handsome new school building. Beyond the fence a yellow earthmover chugged around a large open space, smoothing the rutted dirt of a future schoolyard, dipping its scooper and lowing dolefully. In the windows of the new building we could see construction workers moving around under bare lightbulbs hung up from the rafters on orange extension cords. It was cold enough in the line, the wind shearing down through the wide schoolyard, that even these naked lightbulbs, these empty rooms of scuffed drywall, seemed cozy and inviting. We felt like little match girls. We felt patriotic. We felt sorry for ourselves. Off in the distance, a poll worker in a cheery red vest opened the door to the school’s makeshift cafeteria building and admitted voters in groups of ten.

Pretty hard to watch 4 African American teens in front of me in line sent away from the polls because they didn’t know they had to register to vote… then hear them say, “that’s okay, we will vote next year.”

While I stood there I thought about a girl with whom I used to work. She wanted, quite badly, to have a baby with her boyfriend. I asked her how she could afford that. After all, we were both waitresses in a small town, and I knew for a fact she didn’t have health insurance. Oh you know, I remember her saying airily, Medicare. Or Medicaid. Whichever one. You just go to the hospital and they give you it. I liked this girl: we were work-friends. Sometimes we sat at the bar and had a drink after our shift. But it made me angry when she talked like this. I would think, pridefully, of the 120 dollars I paid out of pocket per month for health insurance. She always wore cute headbands in her hair. I used to get them at Big Lots, she told me. They have the cutest accessories, you’d be surprised. Except I can’t go there anymore. I never paid my Big Lots credit card bill. They call me non-stop. I got the impression that a lot of bill collectors called her non-stop, and I also got the impression that she had no intention of ever paying any of these bills. She seemed, in fact, to think this was how it worked. You racked up debt, and then you avoided the payment of it. Forever. It—her negligence, and my anger at it—begged the question: was I any better than her, just because I had parents who had at least tried to teach me about money, and who could afford, and were kind enough, to bail me out when I failed to heed those instructions? She and her boyfriend did have a baby, eventually, and moved somewhere else. I couldn’t remember where. I wondered if the bill collectors still called.

There’s been studies done that show a link between conservatism and brain atrophy. Conservatives literally have smaller brains.

I hopped from one foot to the other and texted with a friend who was waiting in line to vote, too, albeit in a different city.
I’m still undecided… (which I guess makes me an idiot)
Haha no you are a candidates wet dream. Why do you think they air soooo many ads on election day?
I keep my votes a secret… mainly because I always end up regretting it like a bad drunk hook up
I spelled Romney “romny” last night in an email. Talk about looking stooped
I’ve never voted for a winning candidate. Just realized that. Ha!!
Haha. Then don’t vote for Obama.

We waited in line for a long time. Some of us in line shivered, crossed our arms, huddled up against the thin nylon tarp stretched and snapping against the construction fencing. All along the line our resigned sighs were rendered visible in the cold air, little vaporous clouds of protest dissolving without a fight. I think the goosebumps on my bare calves began to scare the two young black guys standing behind me. They were college students and I knew they were college students because they wore matching fraternity sweatshirts and because they were arguing about Family Guy. Bonnie’s been pregnant for, like, ten years, the shorter one said. It’s ridiculous. You want the show to have a linear plotline that actually makes sense?, the taller one countered. It’s supposed to be nonsense. That’s the whole point. Boom. Argument over. He sounded like a late-night radio DJ: his voice was smooth and confident, unconcerned.

A billion dollars of campaign spending, a recalcitrant and obstructionist Congress that did nothing to help America and 7 years of constant campaigning by a man who would say anything to get elected and yet they STILL couldn’t win. I almost can’t believe it.

Senior citizen and the handicapped to the front of the line, a poll worker hollered, coming down the line like the Pied Piper, an elderly scrum following behind. If you older than sixty-five, come up front. The two salt-and-pepper-haired black men just in front of me stayed in place. Maybe they weren’t quite sixty-five yet. One of these men seemed to know everyone who came back down the line from the polls emblazoned with their I VOTED stickers. Hey, how you doin’? He said to them all in his scratchy drawl. Yep, it’s pretty cold. An I already done waited for an hour down at Burke High School. I thought that was my voting place. Turned out it wasn’t. He chuckled at this. Then a strange woman with swollen skin, pale and round as a melon and clasping an old-fashioned handbag with both hands, stopped to talk to this man. Hey there, he said. And how’s your Daddy’s store gettin on? I was down there some time ago for some paint. Well, we had to close, she said. Because the government is just so mean to us. That was all she offered. Then she kept walking.

I can’t believe how many of my friends voted republican. We’re all in the same tax bracket. I can’t believe how many women voted republican. They don’t respect you or your bodies. Talk about voting against your own best interests. #Gloating

A little while later another woman passed by us, moving in the opposite direction, toward the polling room. She had two tubes in her nostrils and she carried her oxygen tank in one of those old clunky laptop bags. The bag swayed and thumped against her thigh as she walked. I thought Romneyish thoughts. Why does she get to go to the front of the line? When a handicap is self-induced, does it deserve special treatment? I found myself wanting a cigarette.

As of right now it looks like the electoral college has effed Americans again.

When we got inside, all the old black ladies running the polling station swirled around the two fraternity boys. I’m a senior, yes ma’am, they said. Right here at the College of Charleston. Due to graduate next spring. No ma’am. I grew up in Statesboro, Georgia. When we came to the front of the line and had to show our registration cards, the taller of the two college boys was turned away. I’m sorry, sir, but it shows here your current address places you in Precinct 10, which means your polling place is the Water Building— No, no, no, I changed it, I swear, miss, he said, his voice now squeaking a little.

BREAKING: Man Who Told Half the Nation to Fuck Themselves Somehow Loses Election

I got home from work around 11:30 p.m. on Election Day. I came in the house and opened a beer and turned on the news and counted my tips. On CBS, Bob Schieffer’s undereye bags sagged mightily and his jowls quivered with all the gravity of an oracle. He seemed angry to find that people were accusing Chris Christie of sabotaging the race. I think he maybe even said Now wait just a minute, in a wonderfully old fashioned Jimmy Stewart kind of way. He said that Governor Christie and President Obama should be commended, not criticized, for working together in a time of crisis. He said that this kind of teamwork should be help up as an example for politicians everywhere.

ROMNEYBOT DOES NOT COMPUTE CONCESSION SPEECH

I wondered at my cynicism. I wondered what kind of person names their kid Christopher Christie.

If you havin election problems I feel bad for you son, I got 44 presidents and Mitt Romney ain’t one” omggggg haha seriously made me laugh.

I wondered how many of us would ever say out loud, in face-to-face conversation, the things we put on Facebook or Twitter, these bloated websites, these social Petri dishes, so virtually cacophonous, so terribly silent.

Legal weed, gay marriage, and a bunch of Jesus freaks pissed off. Today is a good day

I remembered something I had heard people talking about recently, a speech made by one of the characters on that show Newsroom. I had never watched the show, but my friends quoted it extensively in their Facebook posts. I Googled “Newsroom freedom speech” on my phone, and found out that, in the first episode of the show, a moderate cable news anchor, played by Jeff Daniels, participates in a roundtable left-right debate with other talking heads at a university. When a student asks them what makes America the greatest country in the world, something in him snaps:

You’re gonna tell students that America’s so star-spangled awesome, that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom?… Just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there’s some things you should know, and one of them is, there’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending. None of this is the fault of a twenty-year-old college student. But you, nonetheless, are without a doubt a member of the worst period generation period ever period. So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. Yosemite? We sure used to be. We stood up for what was right… we sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors… we aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it, it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election.

On Thursday I made potato soup and listened to NPR. A reporter stated (in that uniquely warm, vaguely European brogue of concern all NPR reporters seem to employ) that the country of Kenya was, as a whole, elated that the President had been reelected. The reporter interviewed various Kenyans about their excitement and patriotism at this news, and described the thoughts of one woman she interviewed:

She was impressed by how quickly and peacefully the U.S. vote count happened, and she hoped that Kenya’s own presidential election, set for March of next year, can emulate the smooth process. After the country’s 2007 contested election, disgruntled Kenyans divided by tribe and brutally killed more than a thousand of their fellow citizens. The eyes of the world will be on Kenya next spring to see if it can have a bloodless transition of power.

I thought about our collective taking for granted of our freedoms. This act of taking for granted, not only of our freedoms but of our innumerable privileges—our cell phones, our charter schools, our hot showers, our cars with thermometers, our ability to stand in line and vote without being shot—seems sometimes to be the only political attribute we, as a country, share. Are there any truths, besides this, that we all hold to be self-evident anymore? Wasn’t it only a few years ago that everyone still had those American flag stickers pasted crookedly to their car bumpers? What, beyond tragedy, would it take to unite us again? What, beyond our constant, silent vigils at the altar of a phone, computer, television screen, unites us at all?

I’m still a fan of Mike Huckabee 🙂 2016?

I guess that was what was so nice about standing out there in the cold on Election Day. Even though we already knew what the color of our state would be that night on the CBS News election map. Even though we were impatient, and shivering, and there were two rats scurrying up and down the construction fencing. It was this: that the simple act of standing there in line made us a we again, at least for a little while.

Liz lives and writes in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.