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The Jitters Were Warranted

by on November 09, 2016 6:00 AM

One of my colleagues and I developed a daily routine this fall.

“She’s gonna lose,” he’d say.

“She’s not gonna lose,” I’d say.

If Trump wins, he said, ours will no longer be a serious country. A banana republic.

I’d laugh.

“You laugh,” he’d say.

I thought Hillary would beat Trump like Johnson beat Goldwater. I even thought it possible that voters would punish the Republicans for choosing such an obviously unsuitable standard bearer by giving the Democrats the Senate, maybe even the House.

All day long yesterday, I talked jittery friends off the ledge. “How are you holding up?” people asked each other. I remained serene. I predicted Hillary would claim victory by 9-10 p.m.

My thinking was that Trump’s support was thinner than it looked. His crowds looked big, but surely there were millions of Republicans who, whatever they told reporters or pollsters, would, in the privacy of the voting booth, pick the more qualified candidate. Surely all those progressive voters in urban America would overwhelm the conservative voters in rural America.

As Trump said during his debates with Hillary, “Wrong!”

The pollsters and pundits didn’t know what they were talking about. The “elites” – people like me with their fancy degrees and “knowledge economy” jobs – didn’t know what they were talking about.

At 10 last night, I went to Champs, normally a sports bar; on this night, a politics bar. I joined a roomful of Democrats, all of us whipping our heads back and forth from the giant screen tuned to MSNBC, to the three merely large screens tuned to Fox, CNN and again, CNN.

Ohio went to Trump: groans. Virginia went to Clinton: cheers.

A woman I didn’t know leaned toward me.

“I’m stressed,” she said.

“The whole room is stressed,” I told her.

And not just the room. I was getting texts from my daughter: “Tell me that it will be OK.”

I tried: There was still California. But then Trump won North Carolina and Florida. 

At 11, I bailed along with most of my age mates, while a wave of young folk took our place.

And then, alone in my living room, I watched the stunning end, my cheeks hot and my head aching. I thought of my walk to the polls way back at 7:15 a.m., how I tried to lock in the details of the scene -- the thin layer of frost on the grass, the yellow leaves falling from the maple trees, the morning sun blazing on Bald Eagle Ridge.

Some day, I thought, I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren that I voted for the first woman to be elected president of the United States and I’m going to want to paint them a picture of this beautiful November morning.

The length of the line at the Comfort Suites so early in the day surprised me. I took it as a good sign – as if little State College was any kind of bellwether. To my left was the hotel pool. To my right, the breakfast room. Time for a swim and a bowl of Froot Loops? Probably not.

The woman in front of me fretted about attempts to assassinate Hillary, should she be elected.

During the noon hour the queue at the HUB was even more impressive. The lines that snaked out the door in 2008 were back. For once, the grumpy geezer professor was grateful for the cell phones that so mesmerize these millennials. Without them, I feared, they wouldn’t have the patience to wait the half hour or hour to take their turn in the voting booth.

At the State College Municipal Building I bumped into Mayor Elizabeth Goreham, who was also thrilled by reports of long lines all over the Centre Region.

Under the covered walkway in front of Schlow Library members of Nextgen Climate, a national organization working to “prevent climate disaster,” encouraged passersby to vote by offering hot chocolate and grilled stickies.

I heard that free tacos were also on offer from a truck on College Avenue. I considered, but for an old newspaper guy, pizza is the traditional Election Night food, so I restrained myself.

A good thing, too, for on my walk home I passed a sidewalk stand where my neighbors and their daughters were sweetening the voting experience by offering free lemonade, banana bread and Oreos.

So there was all this good cheer, but mostly there was this jitteriness, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since the first days and weeks after 9/11, and had never seen on an Election Day.

The jitters were warranted. My confidence was not. So what do you say when a sleazy, greedy, dishonest, heartless, inexperienced, irresponsible egomaniac becomes the leader of your country?

About all I can come up with is what I tell myself when a team I root for loses a big game: The sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning and set in the west tomorrow night.

And someday America will elect a female president.

A collection of Russell Frank's columns from the past 20 years, titled ÔÇťAmong the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," was published this fall by the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place in the Commentary-Non Daily category of the Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter 2017 Spotlight contest. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania for 13 years. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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