Walkway to class

I remember teaching in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush. I went to bed believing Gore had won, I awoke to news that the race was too close to call, and for weeks thereafter I taught under the Cloud of Unknowing, waiting for the other coup to drop.

In those days I was an adjunct instructor at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH. The adjunct in the basement office next to mine was a political science professor who has since earned tenure and moved onto greener pastures. (I, on the other hand, have simply moved on.) For weeks after the election, I overheard Professor Poli Sci talking on the phone with CNN and other news outlets, explaining again and again the intricacies of the electoral college and how it was possible for the loser of the popular vote to nevertheless win the White House.

Ever since 2000, I don’t believe preliminary election projections: it ain’t over until the race is officially called, the loser actually concedes, and all the votes are counted. And ever since 2016, I haven’t believed pre-election polls, either. For all the outspoken Trump and Biden supporters who wear their politics on their sleeves, there are the uncounted unknowns who don’t answer the phone when pollsters call or simply fib when asked directly about their vote.

Whereas in 2016 I felt crushed by a defeat I secretly feared but hadn’t emotionally prepared myself for, last night came as no surprise. Yes, I would have liked for early results to deliver a clear mandate against Donald Trump (or at least the state of Florida or Ohio). But this year I knew two things: Trump would win states with a history of voter suppression, and the result would be decided by a handful of swing states like Pennsylvania that are deeply divided between vocal Trump supporters, enthusiastic Biden supporters, and the untold enigmas who might vote either way.

Twenty years later, the lesson of 2000 still holds: it ain’t over until the race is officially called, the loser actually concedes, and all the votes are counted. In the meantime we wait, hope, and wonder what in the heck 2020 has in store for us next.