The line stretched most of the way around the inside of the firehouse when I went to vote on Election Day. By the time I left, an hour later, it had started snaking back and forth at one end of the building because the hundred or so people waiting to vote had nowhere else to go.
At one point, a neighbor who was acting as a poll watcher spotted me and came by. As we chatted for a few minutes, I became aware that hardly anyone apart from us was talking, despite the fact that in my upstate New York town of under 3,000 there must have been plenty of people who knew each other. This was not a scene from a Norman Rockwell “democracy at work” painting; rather, it conveyed a sense that voting, at least in this election, was a joyless enterprise.
I thought about the firehouse scene in the days that followed, and especially after the presidential election was called for Joe Biden. Those people waiting to vote were about to help give Trump over 60 percent of the presidential vote in Greene County—slightly higher than four years ago. But they didn’t look very excited by the prospect, and in the days following the election, I didn’t hear of any nearby rallies in Trump’s support. Maybe, I thought, news reports during the campaign had overstated the passion for Trump in rural areas.
Still, there weren’t any Democrats celebrating in the streets either. Yes, Biden won nationwide. But Greene County voters not only decisively chose his opponent but also overwhelmingly supported Republican local and state candidates and helped to make Democratic Representative Antonio Delgado’s reelection closer to a squeaker than a mandate. Hardly the stuff to inspire a victory party.
But now, a few days after the election, everyone seems to be just getting on with their lives. People are worrying about the rising number of Covid cases and the weak economy, and, after two snowstorms in October, wondering whether this is going to be one of those winters like the last, when spring didn’t arrive until June. Home improvement ads have replaced political rants on community Facebook pages, and political gossip has returned to the latest spat among members of the (all-Republican) town board.
Probably the memories that will stay with me the longest from these recent months are not political, in the literal sense, at all. Rather, they are examples of what Biden talked about in his first speech as president-elect: the ability of people with differing viewpoints to work together for the common good. One example of this is a development plan that was created by a town board–appointed committee including both Democrats and Republicans. It was adopted in July and is already being implemented with the help of a similarly mixed group of volunteer residents. On a more personal scale, my husband and the staunch Republican who gave him a “guns 101” session at a local shooting range after they expressed opposing views on gun use during a town board debate (an incident I wrote about) are now friendly enough to regularly discuss local issues, most recently a strategy to improve the local ambulance service.
I’d like to leave you (this is the last in a year-long series of reports) with a story that I hope will give you a laugh while also lending credence to Biden’s belief in Americans’ basic decency and sense of fair play. If he’s right, and if my observations over the past year are accurate, there is reason to think that building a post-Trump America may not be so hard after all.
The story involves an incident that happened not long before the election, when the town supervisor and I were sitting on my front porch while we went over next year’s budget for an article I was writing for the town newsletter. It was late in the day, and the porch was already in shadows.
The supervisor is not only a gun-loving Republican but also the chair of the local Republican committee and, in his day job, a deputy sheriff.
When he arrived, I asked him if he’d feel more comfortable sitting behind the house where no one could see him, since we live on a main road and, at the time, had three Democratic yard signs on the lawn plus a home-made Black Lives Matter sign near the front door. He scoffed and said it wasn’t a problem.
About 45 minutes later, as we were wrapping up, a pickup truck sporting a huge Trump flag passed the house. The driver, seeing the yard signs and a couple of figures sitting outside, hurled an epithet in our direction as he gunned his truck and drove by.
I turned to look at the supervisor, wondering what his reaction would be. “I know that guy,” he said, his face unsmiling but with maybe—I could have been imagining it—a hint of amusement in his eyes. “I’ll have a word with him.”