It was November 8, 2000. The sun was just breaking over the Delaware River as I pulled out of the parking lot behind the Philadelphia Daily News after a grueling night during which I had rewritten the primary presidential election story five times as the lead in Florida seesawed between Al Gore and George W. Bush. But that election was a mere fender bender compared to what happened on Tuesday night.It's the same story the crow told me; it's the only one he knows. / Like the morning sun you come and like the wind you go. / Ain't no time to hate, barely time to wait, / Wo, oh, what I want to know, where does the time go? ~ UNCLE JOHN'S BAND
The sun was just breaking over the Kittatinny Ridge when I stood up from my laptop, stretched my aching back and swallowed the dregs of a cold cup of coffee following another grueling all-night slog some 16 years on, this time to rewrite an election analysis that had started out as a valedictory to Hillary Clinton.
I had briefly considered chucking the whole thing when the lead between Clinton and Donald Trump stopped seesawing in Florida, Trump's lead opened to a couple of percentage points and a few clicks on my pocket calculator confirmed something that had been insinuating itself into the recesses of my mind a few minutes before it dawned on the teevee talking heads: Cheeto Jesus would eek out a "stunning" upset win if Clinton lost any more swing states.
In the next 90 minutes she was to lose all of them.
A steady if light rain was falling when a sound stirred me from sleep after what seemed like hours but actually was only a few minutes since I had finished retooling my analysis, which had shed its valedictory skin and become as bitter as that last swallow of coffee. One of the dogs was snoring at the foot of the bed. The sun had vanished and the ridge was now obscured in mist. I soon became aware of another sound -- the grinding of gears in my mind in a sort of involuntary spasmosis as it searched among the cobwebs for something positive to focus on in the face of disaster.§
This is what I came up with:
I have long believed that America is the new Rome, and the moment when it forswore faith in its leaders and morality for greed and decadence was when Bill Clinton swore on national television in 1998 that he "never had sex with that woman . . . Monica Lewinsky." Beyond setting off a fierce debate on whether blowjobs are in fact sex, Clinton in one fell swoop undermined the credibility of the presidency as not even Richard Nixon had been able. The Oval Office has never been the same.
I have long believed that the Democratic Party is nearly as awful as the Republican Party, that our system of government -- thoroughly undermined by that greed and decadence -- has been on a downward spiral that even eight years of the inherent positivity of Barack Obama has been unable to check.
I also have long believed that things will have to get much worse before they get better, and a fraught, unexpected but welcome if perverse test of that view will be the ascendancy to the presidency -- the freaking presidency! -- of a vile and pathetically borish boy-man incapable of growth, comprehension or compassion who believes he is giving voice to the angst of white people who want to turn back the national clock.
This will mean four or perhaps even eight years of unmitigated hell. It probably will mean a war or two, as well as terrorist attacks on the homeland, shredding of the social safety net and a newly recidivist Supreme Court. The idea of the feckless Democrats becoming a loyal opposition is laughable as I stare into the abyss, although I may be wrong (as I was about the election) and out of the ashes of this catastrophe will grow a better Democratic Party, one that is committed to what it says and not merely saying what it thinks will raise buckets of campaign cash.
I will not play the recrimination game with two exceptions:
I would like to thank all of the people who couldn't get their lazy asses off the couch to vote. Turns out only slightly more people did vote than did not. How Rome-like.
I also would like to thank all of the people, some of whom I consider to be friends, for their ceaseless libels of Hillary Clinton and for helping to elect Donald Trump even if that may not have not been their intention. Clinton was and remains an eminently decent person and her so-called negatives had less to do with Benghazi, private email servers, Wall Street speeches, family foundations and the toxic tandem of Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner than good old sexism.
If there is one certainty on the bitter morning I am writing these words, it is that I may not live to see a woman president.