' ' Cinema Romantico: State of the Union

Monday, November 09, 2020

State of the Union

On November 7, 2000, Election Day, Gore v Bush, I was in the process of moving halfway across the country, from my native Iowa to Arizona. The plan was to drive from Oklahoma City, where I had stayed that Monday night, to Albuquerque, where I would bunk down, watch the returns and then press on to Phoenix the next day. Plans changed. A blinding snowstorm walloped the Texas panhandle and I crawled 70-something miles in whiteout conditions to Amarillo where I booked a motel room and collapsed in exhaustion. (I recently listened to Leon Neyfakh’s podcast recounting of the 2000 Election and one Gore staffer recalled that throughout November 7th the concern was not Florida but a snowstorm in the southwest. “Hey!” I thought. “I know that snowstorm!”) So even if America descended into a constitutional crisis that night, I still felt more relief than dread, happy just to be alive. What I remember most is less Florida being called for Gore and then Florida being taken back from Gore and then Gore conceding and then Gore rescinding his concession than the next day, making the long 600+ mile haul across three states, pointedly forgoing any talk radio, any news at all. There was something strangely surreal and eerily beautiful about driving through a huge chunk of America I’d never seen on a day when the fate of America was hanging in the balance. I drove beneath wide New Mexico skies and through Flagstaff at sunset (which I can still see, I swear, when I close my eyes) and then plunged down I-17 in the pitch black and into the Salt Valley. Cars were still passing me on each side of the road; people were still pumping and paying for gas; workers were still toiling away for wages at the Denny’s where I stopped along the interstate for pancakes. Nobody knew who the hell was going to be President but America kept on keeping on.

I have thought frequently in the last couple years of this Pierre Bonnard painting, “View from the Artist’s Studio, Le Cannet”, one I have written about before, that My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife and I saw at the Milwaukee Art Museum back in 2017. The accompanying placard explained that then, in 1945, while the war that ravaged his European continent was only beginning to wind down, Bonnard, briefly ignoring the strife, simply looked out his back window and painted what he saw. I found this profoundly moving in the moment, one in which both the ACA’s prospective repeal and replace for a bunch of shit scribbled on a cocktail napkin was in its hell-raising 11th hour and half the MAM had been closed off to accommodate Scott Walker officially announcing his Foxconn grift. I kept thinking of Bonnard’s painting the last week as Election Day bled into Wednesday and then into Thursday and then into Friday and then into Saturday morning. My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife signed up for a fruit CSA a few months ago, leaving us with a never-ending bounty of apples, and I liked to eat one, stand at our front window and look out at the Japanese Maple in our courtyard, admiring nature’s placid indifference.


Like Auric Goldfinger summoning a plethora of criminal masterminds to his place and then showing them exactly how he planned to rip off Fort Knox, our President, you-know-who, King Big Brain I, His Imbecility, had telegraphed his Election intentions for weeks, months. In a nation roiled by a Pandemic that he has predictably, obtusely met with a combination of magical thinking, cruelty and patented laziness, mail-in voting seemed the smart way to go for an impending Presidential Election. As such, he monkeyed with the Postal Service to ensure delays in mail-in voting while encouraging his supporters to vote in-person, bellowing about how Election Day should end on Election Day, even though that’s not how it works, so that in states where myriad mail-in votes would still need to be counted late into the week, he could get huffy about how they were fraudulent and illegal. If logically I knew it was coming, and if rationally I knew the Election would never be called on Tuesday with so many votes left to tally, emotionally I still struggled as the count dragged on and on. And yet. In the image of so many election workers, weighed down by PPE, committed to their task no matter what, I found inspiration.

As the Election results bore out, America is a divided country. It almost always has been and pretending otherwise, like so much We’re All In This Together COVID advertising rubbish has gone to show, is folly. What made the last 4 years especially concerning, however, were Big Brain I’s fascist tendencies and how even as one side decried and, yes, resisted them, the other side enabled, willfully ignored or shrugged them off as no big deal. It’s why when, in the middle of an Election, the President of the United States went on camera and deemed it fraudulent, illegal, yada yada, it was terrifying, every single thing I feared might come to pass when he was first elected in 2016. In my anxiety, though, I underestimated the democratic process, the heroic civil servants who payed no mind to the would-be King’s toy saber rattling and his minions making New Age Brooks Brothers riot poses and just kept counting, and just kept counting, and just kept counting.

Despite the intimidation and the outside noise, democracy remained indifferent.

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