I debated writing this column. That is, I debated writing a column on this topic. After all, anyone with access to information is terribly burnt out on this election, or is running for office. In fact this week’s lead editorial is on the election.
Worse, this is being written Monday. Early voting will end today at 5:30 p.m., and then tomorrow is the big day, with polls open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. with potential for lines to be such that voting will continue after the 7:30 cutoff. Because it’s that kind of election. Because of all this, I have to speak to the future from the present.
And I’ve gotten into any number of conversations in the last few weeks of people asking if I can recall there ever being an election like this? They’re, of course, speaking to the meanness (I’m thinking about a campaign bus that got run out down in Texas last week) representing the divisiveness, the “not your way, our way” ~esque responses.
It is, on one hand, nice to be thought of as a gray beard, someone who can look back on things and recall when it was X or Y and tell the kids a story about it. At the same time, well, “time,” there’s a word, time is apparently moving on and taking me with it which is always stark to contemplate.
In 1964 I was standing on the front porch and a car drove by, a 1962 Ford Falcon Station wagon, black. (I was a car nerd when I was a kid; still am, really.) It was being driven by a classic 1964 kind of guy, wearing a white short-sleeve shirt with black hair and horn-rim glasses. He wasn’t smiling, nor frowning, just driving his car. He was the only person in the car. In the left side window of the car was a bumper sticker. It was taped to the inside of the car window, instead of stuck on. This wasn’t unheard of in these days, as it was not unusual for people to take down their candidate stickers and signs the day after the election.
My Dad did, and Mom explained to me that taking down the symbols and such was just the polite thing to do. You’d see cars where a scraper was used to get most of the sticker off a back bumper.
Anyway, the sticker inside the Falcon window was “LBJ for Moral Decay.” It was very unadorned, just black letters on a white background, no American flag or colors. Lyndon Johnson was running against Barry Goldwater and, well, a side had been chosen by that driver.
I was nine years old. It’s just one of those stark memories, those flashes from when you were a kid that sticks with you. Funny how that is.
I expect it stuck with my all those years because I found out in that moment that not everyone agreed with each other. That not only was this person not going to vote the same ticket as my parents and their friends, but that he was apparently not doing so due to a fear of “moral decay.”
I was in the fourth year of school, a neighborhood Catholic school and the nuns, other than the reading-writing thing, had instilled an abiding sense about moral decay. (Opposed, we were opposed to moral decay.)
And I got into a (friendly) argument with my brother last night about the 1964 election. He maintains the 1968 election, with George Wallace as the third-part candidate was the meanest election of our lifetimes. It was during a weekly family Zoom call so I didn’t follow him down the rabbit hole into debate, but he was utterly wrong (I told him). And while the ’68 election was a thing to behold, a national event framed by anger if not rage, it would not have taken place without the ’64 election and its decay thing.
And we survived it.
We survived ’64, we survived ’68, we survived any number of following elections, we survived any number of following political scandals. We will survive this.
Our (grand)children will look back and ask us about the 2020 election, perhaps, and we will tell them about it, about the 2016 election and social media propaganda, about 2012 and more-or-less half of us were pretty sure the world was going to hell then, about preceding elections. Perhaps, even, we’ll talk about the elections which came after, the scandals before or since, and then bask in the memories for a moment or two.
The temptation here is to make some crack about a memory flying off like a Falcon and some kid on a porch watching it. “Life goes on,” would be the punchline, and that would be correct.